The asian job market is changing due to artificial intelligence (AI) and studies have shown that Hong Kong SAR is least prepared as compared to her asian neighbours.
The AI growth rate has gone from strength to strength over the last few years with the last decade bearing witness to the introduction of the driverless car in 2009 by Google and IBM’s Watson defeated 2 Jeopardy! Champions in 2011. Just in 2017 alone, Google DeepMind’s AI taught itself to walk, run and jump. While much of the news centred around AI hails predominantly from outside Asia, the State Council announced plans for China to become the world leader in AI by 2030.
AI and the future of work
Driven mainly by private technology companies, the race to develop and integrate AI has accelerated across all companies within Asia with the onset of new incubators and investors. The government in the region need to prepare for a future where AI will change the nature of human work, change employment structures and create new and exciting job opportunities.
In 2017, I spoke with a number of business leaders that have set up internal teams to disrupt their current working methods and employment structures. The obvious opportunities are that Hong Kong SAR companies could benefit from using AI to make manufacturing and services more efficient and to support the diversification of the economy.
However, as documented by a recent index developed by the The Asia Business Council, a mainstream move towards embracing AI is not the norm in Hong Kong SAR.
The Asian Index of Artificial Intelligence analysed the preparedness and resilience of eight Asian economies with respect to an AI-led future for their economies and societies. Preparedness measures the extent to which companies and talent can capitalize on AI opportunities, while resilience measures the extent to which governments and societies can adapt to and withstand broader structural changes resulting from AI use. The index looks at 11 criteria - including startup activity, AI funding, STEM human capital, AI publications, data openness, tax credits & subsidies, government support of AI research, AI legal changes, job retraining programs, social safety net and employer structure.
In light of their soaring ambition, China topped the overall ranking by a large margin, followed by Singapore and India. Hong Kong SAR was ranked seven, only beating Indonesia. Hong Kong SAR scored low on key drivers that indicated high preparedness, including startup activity and equity funding. Hong Kong SAR’s Secretary for Innovation & Technology announced plans to offer tax incentives to attract companies focused on artificial intelligence, Big Data and IoT. However, details of the plan and execution were not clearly communicated. Whereas, other territories like Singapore, Japan and China have clear policies in place to attract these technologies to set up shop.
With the increasing use of technology, future jobs will demand a different mix of skill sets. Majority of the future job opportunities are targeted at graduates from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), as these markets are expected to perform better. According to the index, Hong Kong SAR students are reluctant to choose STEM curriculums. This could be because traditionally, Hong Kong SAR’s main employment sectors are in finance, retail and logistics - industries that are open to disruption from emerging technologies regardless.
educating for the future
To firstly survive and then prosper in the world disrupted by technology, employees must be able to work alongside machines, and therein is a challenge. Education is fundamental to the acceptance and process of digital transformation, and markets that do not prepare the younger generation will not succeed.
According to the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2017, Hong Kong SAR came in 14 – behind Singapore, Japan and South Korea – on how well the market’s education system prepares people aged 15 to 24 for the future.
Singapore and South Korea recognise the critical nature of education by offering training programs for citizens. Every working Singaporean over 25 years old is given a US$345 training credit that can be used at more than 500 providers. China has 300 new institutions offering vocational courses such as ‘Industrial Robots Technologies’.
There have been some examples of strides being made towards promoting STEM among local primary and secondary students, such as HKSTP’s initiative to support a robotics education programme for the Tai Po Secondary Schools Network. However, Hong Kong SAR’s performance and ranking on the index indicate substantial room for improvement and support from the ecosystem.
The transition process from humans to machines requires more than just tertiary education. It requires careful workforce planning and training and development programmes by experts within corporates.
artificial intelligence and job automation
Throughout 2017, I have had scores of conversations (from C-suites to local store managers) on the impact of AI and automation. While industries are abuzz with chatter around AI, robotics and automation, expressing a general sentiment of anticipation and excitement, I still feel that there is lack of awareness around the impact it will have on our workforce.
Last year, the Randstad Employer Brand Research surveyed more than 4,000 Hongkongers and posed a question about automation and AI. Only a mere 20% of local employees felt that job could be replaced by automation, a figure that I found particularly low considering that we are on the cusp of a new age where automation and AI is quickly becoming a reality.
In our industry, we are building in-house capabilities and have partnered with tech companies to develop innovative HR digital solutions aimed at automating mundane activities and enhancing the customer experience. These innovations are not being introduced to replace jobs, while there certainly is enough disruption in the field of recruitment to image that. But we are investing in them to free up our employees’ time so that they can focus more on building real relationships with our clients and candidates, allowing us to better understand our client’s business and talent needs.
If you have not yet thought about the impact of AI and automation in your business, the time to start could not be any sooner.
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