Robots & Machines

137 Million Southeast Asian Workers Could Lose Their Jobs to Automation in the Next 20 Years

Even the current price advantage of cheap labor may not be enough to save them—automation will be cheaper.

A study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that in the next 20 years, more than half of the workers in five Southeast Asian countries are highly likely to lose their jobs to automation—most specifically in the garment industry.

--FILE--Robot arms weld car parts at an auto plant of Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen Automobile Co., Ltd. in Wuhan city, central China's Hubei province, 24 September 2014. China will have more robots operating in its production plants by 2017 than any other country as it cranks up automation of its car and electronics factories, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said on Thursday (5 February 2015). Already the biggest market in the $9.5 billion global robot trade, or $29 billion including associated software, peripherals and systems engineering, China lags far behind its more industrialized peers in terms of robot density. China has just 30 robots per 10,000 workers employed in manufacturing industries, compared with 437 in South Korea, 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States. But a race by carmakers to build plants in China along with wage inflation that has eroded the competitiveness of Chinese labour will push the operational stock of industrial robots to more than double to 428,000 by 2017, the IFR estimates.
South China Morning Post

The countries on the danger list are Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, where 137 million workers are at high risk of being laid off in favor of technology. This number constitutes 56% of these countries’ salaried labor force, with workers in textiles, clothing, and footwear sectors being at the highest risk of being replaced by automated machines.

Sadly, as automation starts to become dominant, certain skills become obsolete, even when their costs were supposedly low enough. “Countries that compete on low-wage labour need to reposition themselves—price advantage is no longer enough,” said Deborah France-Massin, director for the ILO’s bureau for employers’ activities. 

“Robots are becoming better at assembly, cheaper and increasingly able to collaborate with people,” the ILO said.

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