Robots won't steal your job if you skill up: International Labour Organisation report

Honda Motor's humanoid robot Asimo is pictured at the company's showroom in Tokyo, Japan
Honda Motor's humanoid robot Asimo is pictured at the company's showroom in Tokyo, JapanPHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Automation could replace many jobs in the region in coming years but such technological advances will also make it even harder for local firms to find the high-skilled staff to operate the new techology, according to a new report.

One way to meet this need is to encourage students to focus on what are called STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to the report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Thursday (July 7) .

"Despite significant indications of innovation and technological progress, enterprises in Singapore reported that costs and skills are the biggest barriers to upgrading technology, with lack of skills reported more frequently in Singapore than on average in Asean," the report said.

Singapore accounts for half of Asean's high-skill and technology-intensive manufacturing exports, followed by Thailand (19.6 per cent) and Malaysia (15.7 per cent).

The research, part of a larger report on how technology is changing jobs across Asean, surveyed 4,076 regional enterprises across the manufacturing and service sectors, including 301 from Singapore, as well as students from over 2,700 universities and vocational colleges, including 206 from Singapore.

Firms here named rising labour costs as the biggest threat they face over the coming decade.

The United Nations agency noted that the Singapore government had taken steps to use new technology to deal with the labour shortage and mitigate rising labour costs.

Earlier this year, for example, the Government earmarked more than $450 million to expand the National Robotics Programme over the next three years.

"Increased automation will also create considerable, high-skilled work, as optimised robots and machinery will need capable technicians and engineers," the ILO noted.

But the ILO also warned that workers here "are not immune to rising skills needs brought on by technology, and students need to be encouraged to focus on STEM subjects to meet the future needs of enterprises in Singapore".

marilee@sph.com.sg