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Labour will face threats from tech, says ADB

An employee works at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district in 2014.
An employee works at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district in 2014. Vireak Mai

Labour will face threats from tech, says ADB

Experts from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned of disruption in the labour market due to technological advances at the bank’s annual meeting in Manila on Thursday, though officials also noted that Cambodia had several programs in place to help mitigate any negative consequences.

Elisabetta Gentile, an economist at the ADB, said technological advances like automation would require workers to acquire new skills in order to stay competitive in the future.

“We have to help [workers] for this transition, in order to contribute to economic growth in the country,” she said.

Cambodia’s government is vocally supportive of such a transition, although it remains to be seen whether the significant investment required to retrain the workforce will be forthcoming.

“It is a real challenge that we will face in the next decade,” said Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Labour Ministry. “We need to move from the labour-intensive [work] to a more knowledge-based industry, and train our workforce to cope with that challenge.”

The ADB has proposed several projects in Cambodia that seek to develop the country’s workforce, including a $60 million project that focuses on educating workers, with the goal of transforming Cambodia’s economy from labour-based to skills-based by 2025.

The bank has also funded a technical and vocational training program, as well as an expansion of secondary education in the country.

According to Gentile, Cambodia has time to make such a transition, but the preparation work should being now.

“We have to start working today to build the skills that workers in all of developing Asia will need to seize the opportunities new technologies offer,” she wrote in an email, adding that at the same time, governments should boost social safety nets for workers.

“Governments in developing Asia should ensure that workers are protected from the downside of new technologies, and able to harness the new opportunities they provide.”

Note: The Asian Development Bank funded travel and lodging expenses associated with this story. They had no influence in the reporting or editing process.

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