Youth optimistic about Asean 4.0

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Vietnamese police personnel guard the compound of the National Convention Center in Hanoi, the venue of the World Economic Forum on Asean, on Tuesday. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP

Youth optimistic about Asean 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will have a profound impact on the future of work and jobs. New technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, autonomous cars and drones, and precision medicine are already transforming entire industries and the workers employed within them.

Nobody can say for sure whether technology will reduce or increase the number of jobs. But what is certain is that the nature of work will change.

In Asean, forecasts from the United Nations shows that the working age population across the region is expanding by 11,000 workers every day, and will continue at this pace for the next 15 years. This demographic expansion is happening just as new technologies bring disruption to the workplace.

However, the youth of Asean are highly optimistic about the impact of technology on their job prospects and incomes, according to a survey from the World Economic Forum.

Some 52 per cent of under-35s across Southeast Asia said they believe that technology will increase the number of jobs available, while 67 per cent said they believe that technology will increase their ability to earn higher incomes.

The survey, which was run in partnership with Sea, one of Southeast Asia’s leading internet companies, gathered results from 64,000 Asean citizens through users of Garena and Shopee, Sea’s online games and e-commerce platforms, respectively. The majority of respondents were from six countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines.

The degree of optimism about the impact of technology on the future of work varied strongly by country. The youth of Singapore and Thailand were much more pessimistic in their responses, while the youth of Indonesia and the Philippines were much more optimistic. In Singapore, only 31 per cent said they believe that technology would increase the number of jobs, compared to 60 per cent in the Philippines.

The results also vary by level of education. Among those who stated they have no schooling, some 56 per cent said they believe that technology would increase jobs. Among those with a university degree or higher, only 47 per cent felt the same way.

“Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies like artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and self-driving vehicles will bring significant disruption to the job market,” said Justin Wood, the head of Asia Pacific and a member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. “No one knows yet what impact these technologies will have on jobs and salaries.

Globally there is concern that technological change may bring rising inequality and joblessness. But in Asean, the sentiment seems to be much more positive.”

Jobs in multinationals and government considered most desirable

The survey also asked young people to reveal what type of company they work for today and where they would like to work in the future. Today, 58 per cent of the respondents work for small businesses – either for themselves, for their family business, or for a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).

A significant portion of youths (one in four) aspire to work for themselves and start their own business. However, many working for SMEs said that they would like to work for a different organization. Today, 17 per cent work in an SME, but only seven per cent said that they would like to work in an SME in the future.

In contrast, the results show a strong preference to work for foreign multinational companies (10 per cent work for one today, but 17 per cent want to work for one in future) and for governments (13 per cent today compared to 16 per cent in future).

These results suggest a preference for income stability, given the more unpredictable nature of employment in small organizations versus large ones. But there are nonetheless some countries that show a rising appetite for entrepreneurialism and the associated risk-taking it involves. In Thailand, for example, 26 per cent of young people work for themselves today, but 36 per cent said they would like to in future.

In Vietnam, 19 per cent work for themselves today, compared to 25 per cent that say they want to be self-employed in future.

Group chief economist at Sea Santitarn Sathirathai said: “It is encouraging to see such strong entrepreneurial drive among Asean’s young population, with one-quarter of respondents wanting to start their own business.

However, the findings also suggest that SMEs may struggle for talent in the future, with a smaller share of the region’s youth willing to work for SMEs.

Looking ahead, it will be important to continue to enhance SME adoption of digital technologies to ensure young entrepreneurs and small businesses have the resources they need to succeed.”

The survey also reveals that, across Asean, the youth spend an average of six hours and four minutes online every day, with 61 per cent of that time spent on leisure, and 39 per cent spent on work activities.

Among the countries surveyed, the youth of Thailand spend the most time online – an average of seven hours and six minutes. The youth of Vietnam spend the least time online – an average of five hours and 10 minutes.

The World Economic Forum on Asean 2018, with a focus on the innovation needed to propel the region through the next phase of its growth, is taking place in Vietnamese capital Hanoi from September 11-13.

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