Vietnam’s low-skilled labor force threatened by robots

By VnExpress   December 13, 2016 | 07:47 pm PT
Vietnam’s low-skilled labor force threatened by robots
A woman works at a furniture factory in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
86 percent of garment workers could lose their jobs in the coming decades, according to the International Labor Organization.

Vietnam’s workforce is made up largely of untrained and low-skilled workers who are at high risk of being replaced by automation and robots in the near future, labor experts said at a conference in Hanoi on Tuesday.

Dao Hong Lan, vice minister of labor, said Vietnam currently has 54.36 million workers but nearly 80 percent of them have not received any training or degrees for their jobs.

The country’s labor force is expected to grow to 62 million in 2025, posing a very difficult task for the country to create more than 700,000 thousand jobs every year.

“Globalization and technological revolution are posing increasingly greater challenges for Vietnam’s economy,” Lan said.

Skill enhancement must be a priority to secure Vietnam’s labor market ahead of the time when low-cost labor will no longer be competitive, officials said at the National Policy Dialogue on Future of Work held by the labor ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

David Lamotte, ILO deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, said: “It will certainly shift in the coming years as technology costs decline while labor costs increase.”

A recent ILO study found that workers in Vietnam’s two major and growing production sectors – garments and electronics  are at risk.

In the garments sector, 86 percent of workers face increased automation, while about 75 percent of workers in the electronics sector could be replaced by robots in the coming decades, it found.

The sectors provide the country’s key exports and account for around 40 percent of the nation's manufacturing jobs, but productivity and the application of technology in the workplace are much lower than in other Southeast Asian countries.

Productivity in Vietnam’s garments sector, for example, is only 20 percent of Thailand’s and nearly the same as Cambodia.

Garment production in Vietnam currently relies on a large number of workers rather than highly-skilled employees while the electronics sector targets low-value production and low-skilled assembly work, according to the ILO.

The ILO said young people in Vietnam should pursue courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to meet employment demands in the age of technology.

“This is important, particularly among girls and young women who are more susceptible to job loss than men, when automation becomes more popular in manufacturing industries,” said Lamotte.

A recent survey by the Institute of Labor Sciences and Social Affairs at the ministry also named creativity, foreign languages, teamwork and problem solving as the core competencies needed to survive the modern workplace.

Both the ILO and the institute called for better connections between Vietnam’s policymakers, employers and training institutions to adapt to the changing workplace and technological innovations.

The current link between businesses and training institutes mainly comes in the form of internships while their cooperation remains weak when it comes to training and planning for skilled workers.

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