Bernardo M. Villegas
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Message to Millennials and Centennials (Part 6)

 Those who are in their twenties and early thirties today are the ones who will inherit a Philippine economy that by the decade 2040 -2050 will reach the status of a high-income economy with a per capita income of more than $12,000 in today’s prices.  This is the stage at which our Northeast Asian neighbors like Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and South Korea have already reached and is a prelude to becoming a First World country which South Korea recently attained by being admitted to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This will happen, no matter how imperfect the political leadership may be in the coming decades as long as the best and the brightest are appointed to the key positions of the Cabinet that have to do with economic management.  We have already demonstrated this over the last thirty years when the quality of our political leadership has not always been up to par. Precisely because we always had a sufficient pool of competent and honest technocrats, we had been able to transition from low-income to low-middle income and now upper-middle income, a status that will be ours by 2023.  We have succeeded in attaining this status, despite all the economic challenges we faced during three serious global crises, i.e. the East Asian Financial crisis of 1997 to 2000, the Great Recession of 2008 to 2012 and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has sent global prices of oil, food and other commodities to the sky.

This favorable environment that awaits the millennials and centennials of today will be no guarantee, however, of professional and economic success.  The yuppies today can make their greatest contribution to the economic common good by making sure that they are constantly reinventing themselves and improving their knowledge and skills to meet the demands of an ever changing technological landscape.  In the farming sector there will be increased mechanization and the application of chemical or organic products such as fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides.   There will be a shift to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydro and nuclear (especially under the next Administration).  In line with the ongoing Industrial Revolution 4.0, yuppies will have to increasingly upskill, reskill and retool themselves in Artificial Intelligence, robotization, the Internet of Things and data analytics.  Many of those who are now employed in the BPO-IT sector as call center or customer service agents will have to transform themselves into KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing)  experts since customer service is the easiest to robotize.

In order to future-proof themselves, today’s millennials and centennials must follow the advice given to them in a recent workshop called Let’s Meet at the Sangandaan Cultural Center in Makati:

1.      Anticipate and follow technical changes in your workplace.  For example, educators and teachers must learn to adapt to online and hybrid forms of delivering knowledge and skills.  Entrepreneurs in the vast field of food and agribusiness must learn the intricacies of e-commerce and supply chain management.

2.     Take a proactive approach to your own career development and training.  Don’t become complacent because you have an undergraduate degree in business or even an MBA.  Take full advantage of the varied webinars, seminars and short courses providing the newest knowledge and skills in the various functions of business and especially in becoming an effective leader.

3.     Build a solid mix of hard skills and soft skills.  Work especially in cultivating the human and spiritual virtues that make you a better manager or co-worker such as prudence, humility, justice, temperance and fortitude.  For those who have the Christian faith, the practice of getting a spiritual director or coach can help very much in this task of self-improvement.

4.     Elevate your emotional intelligence. IQ accounts for only 20 % of success in life, with the remaining 80 % being made up by other factors, emotional intelligence included. As we read in the book on emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence can be taught and learned—we have the ability to improve upon our emotional intelligence throughout our lives.  We can’t change our emotional reactions to things, but we can learn how to respond to our emotions differently.  Emotional intelligence consists in knowing your emotions, managing emotions, motivating yourself, recognizing emotions in others (empathy) and handling relationships.

5.     Work to acquire solid leadership skills and habits to more effectively direct yourself,  your projects and others.  The most important virtue a leader should possess is integrity, which means always practicing what one preaches. 

              Also very helpful are the advice given by Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation in the U.S. in a  book entitled “Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines.”  He argues that you will always be needed in the work place if you make it a point to develop the qualities that only a human can contribute.  Only humans can understand the following basic principles:

1.     Work brings shape and meaning to our lives and is not just about a job.  Only a human being can realize what we discussed above about work being more than a means to earn a living.  More importantly, it is a respond of the creature to the Creator’s command to subdue the earth and multiply.  Work is a primary means of reaching both human and spiritual perfection. 

2.     As artificial intelligence ultimately leads to the automation of virtually all tasks that are repetitive or can reduced to an algorithm, work does not go away but is transformed into the work of the future:  human work—the work only people can do.

3.     Human work blends human traits such as compassion, empathy, and ethics with our developed human capabilities such as critical analysis, interpersonal communication, and creativity.  These are best developed by studying the Humanities (philosophy, literature, history, art and religion).  Thus, one should have a lifelong interest in reading books and listening to lectures (physically or digitally); 

4.     We urgently need a large-scale, continuous system for developing and deploying quality learning that will prepare people for human work and life in this new age of smart machines.  Combined with opportunities for serving others that enhance and magnify this learning, this new system will create a virtuous cycle of earning, learning and serving others.

5.     The economy is rapidly becoming people-centered, which demands new and different systems for employment and learning.  Both individuals and the economy depend on people developing their abilities throughout their lives and being able to match them with needs in the economy and society.  This requires that everyone—employers, educators, and workers—speak the same language about what work requires and what they know and can do.  In other words, the worlds of work and learning are merging into a single system based on continuous learning and credentials whose meanings are clear and transparent.

6.     It’s not just the work of the future that requires us to develop our abilities for human work.  The abilities and capabilities needed for human wok are the same ones necessary to assure a more equal and just society governed through democracy.  The virtues—both human and supernatural--that we need to ensure that our work is a real service to society are the same qualities we need to live as good citizens in a truly free society.


We cannot overemphasize the great responsibility of the present young generation to commit themselves to lifelong learning, much more than their parents and grandparents.  Murphy’s Law tells us that technology is changing at a vertiginous pace, a rate many times than in the past.  As Merisotis wrote in his book, it is useless to lament the loss of yesterday’s jobs.  What we have to do is prepare people for an inevitable future in which they need to be more flexible, adaptable, and prepared for whatever opportunities present themselves.   What is more important than whether or not a particular job will go away is that everyone will see jobs changed in some way by technology which will require additional training to take advantage of opportunities for new types of  work that inevitably will be created.

Now that all leading universities in the country are offering courses in data analytics, especially as applied to the financial services sector, the question being asked by both professors and students is whether AI and automation inexorably replace human tasks performed in data analytics. Many people believe that “machines are becoming a threat to warm-blooded crunchers worldwide”, according to a 2019 Bloomberg analysis.  But job-search companies report that many of the same banks and investment houses in which smart machines have supplanted human data analysts are now actively looking for people with different skills to develop stronger information systems, do ever more sophisticated data analyses, and, in effect, manage robots.  At these organizations, data scientists are in great demand.  This is the feedback I get from the managers of the most digitalized bank in the country, Union Bank.

This is true not only among knowledge workers.  Even among bricklayers, automation seems to be a threat in making their trade obsolete.  A new robotic bricklayer can lay three times the number of bricks as a skilled human worker.  Furthermore, the machine does not stop for water breaks or join labor union.  The inventor of the robotic bricklayer, however, insists that the machine is meant to make better use of human workers and not replace them.  Human bricklayers are still needed to set up and guide the machine, read blueprints, and do the more complex or tricky parts of the job, including tasks that require creative solutions. The same dynamic is playing out in job after job across the world economy. Human beings will always be necessary to carry out the God-given task of “dominating the universe.”   For comments, my email address is