A call center agent talks to a client at an office in Makati City. — REUTERS

AS MANY AS 100,000 jobs in the Philippines might be at risk and could become obsolete amid “rapid global digitalization,” according to management consulting firm Kearney.

“We have done a study on this and there’s a percentage of jobs that will probably become obsolete in the next three to four years. When we were calculating, it came out to about 50,000 to 100,000 jobs that were being netted off,” Kearney Philippines Country Head Marco de la Rosa said during a media roundtable in Taguig City on Tuesday.

Among those that could become obsolete are retail and back-office roles.

“Retail is typically going to be badly hit… Also, any back-office roles that require your traditional data entry, more manual type processes, are going to be impacted as well. That cuts across all sectors and we’re already seeing the impact of that in financial institutions, telecommunications, and the like,” Mr. De la Rosa said.

In a statement, Kearney said the Philippine business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is particularly vulnerable to changing employment trends.

“The Philippines currently has 10-15% of the global BPO workforce, and this industry will be hard-hit by the change in employment trends. If the country wants to retain its spot in the BPO global market, it needs to re-strategize its overall approach,” Kearney said.

As of end-2022, the Philippines’ information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) sector had 1.57 million full-time employees. It generated $32.5 billion in revenues last year, 10% higher than  $29.5 billion in 2021.

Mr. De la Rosa said there is a need to upskill and reskill Filipino workers whose jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete.

“Complex problem solving will still be needed. You’re going to need basic reading comprehension because if you’re going to use a bot, you need to still be able to understand intent. Another need is customer centricity. It’s also a skill that matters because at the end of the day, that human element won’t really go away,” he added.

The Kearney executive noted talent retention is another challenge for Philippine companies.

“We did a study of the most attractive jobs, particularly in the digital space. Philippine wages are about a 10th of developed countries and within even our neighboring countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, it’s about a third of those countries,” he said.

“If you’ve got a highly skilled individual here with the right set of skills, where do you go? You go outside the Philippines. We need to fix that. We’ve got talent here to retain. We need to make sure people come back here.”

While some jobs will become obsolete, Mr. De la Rosa said new roles related to sustainability and digitalization would also be created.

“The new jobs that are going to be created are around designers, more design thinking type roles. Sustainability specialists are also going to be quite important. Any roles that touch on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are going to be important,” he said.

Mr. De la Rosa said there might be some friction in the transition of obsolete jobs to new roles.

“We’ve seen that in other markets as well. We, as a nation, need to be prepared for that period of transition as we go from one type of job to another,” he added.

Kearney said the Philippine government and academics should improve and recalibrate its educational foundation to meet the needs of global talent demand. Companies, on the other hand, have to re-strategize operations and their hiring approach.

“The government also needs to provide incentives and create an attractive working environment to increase sector attractiveness, leverage private-public partnerships to develop future talent, and leverage key success factors from other leading countries on upskilling its workforce,” it added. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave