Page last updated at 01:01 UTC, Monday, 20 January 2020 PH
These considerations on digital technology lead us to a discussion of the future of the Philippine Informational Technology-Business Process Management (IT-BPM) sector. Next to the OFWs, this sector generates the largest source of foreign exchange earnings and consequently domestic purchasing power of the economy. Despite the threat of AI and robotization, this sector will continue to employ more than a million of our highly educated youth in the coming years. In a study prepared by Frost and Sullivan and commissioned by the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), this sector was projected to employ 1.8 million Full Time Employees (FTEs) by 2022 from the present 1.2 million, generating $38.9 billion three years from now from approximately $24 billion today. Although the industry leaders have toned down the bullish feature of the study, considering the lackluster performance of the last two years, this sector will continue to employ more than a million Filipinos even if there will be less of them in the voice-oriented services which are the easiest to robotized. The industry leaders are trying their best to upgrade the talents of the workers in the industry away from contact centers to knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) enterprises. If they succeed, there will continue to be robust demand for animation and game development, information technology outsourcing, health information management and global in-house centers. Among the BPO services that are still expected to have high growth are engineering services outsourcing, data analytics, performance management, and legal process outsourcing. IT services that need not suffer a slowdown are system integration, automation enablement, Internet-of-Things (IoT) Enablement Languages, and Application Development Management. Growth areas in Health Management Services are Preventive Health, Remote Healthcare Management and Provider Services. 3D Animation and Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and Gamification will be the growth areas under Animation and Game Development Services. Finally, although Finance and Accounting will always be absorbing some of our accounting and finance graduates, the Global In-House Centers will veer more towards industry-specific services for Telecom, Healthcare, Insurance and Pharmaceutical.
Even if the ambitious target of the IBPAP will be missed in 2022, the Philippines will continue to be a preferred destination for whatever will remain among the voice-oriented services because of its cultural and historical links with the biggest market for contact centers (the US), the English proficiency skills, and friendly and hospitable nature of Filipinos. That is why we have to continue improving the teaching of English in our high schools and colleges. As we expand our Knowledge Process Outsourcing sector, we have to produce better-quality engineers, architects, medical personnel, graphic artists, animation experts, and IT professionals in general. Even more challenging will be the ability of our educational sector to produce talents in the emerging digital technologies such as Big Data and Analytics (BDA), Internet-of-Things (I-o-T), Automation and Artificial Intelligence and Cloud Computing. It is encouraging to know that some Philippine educational institutions such as the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo University, and the University of Asia and the Pacific are launching masteral and doctoral programs in Data Science and Business Analytics. Given our advantage of having a young and growing population, our investing in the training of manpower for these new technologies will keep us at the forefront of the IT-BPM global market. The Frost and Sullivan study mentioned above projects worldwide spending on big data analytics to grow by 12.5% annually in the next five years. Even if the coming world-wide recession may reduce the growth to single digit levels, the Philippines can still expect to face a global market of more than US $100 billion spending on Big Data Analytics.
Last September 20, 2019, the New York Times carried an article by David Deming, the Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. The article had an intriguing title: “Engineers Sprint Ahead, But Don’t Underestimate the Poets.” Given all the hype about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is taken for granted by both parents and their children preparing for their future careers that computer science and engineering majors (or more broadly those who follow the STEM fields) have better employment prospects and higher earnings than their peers who follow the liberal arts or the humanities track. According to Mr. Deming, this may be true for the first job, but the long-term story is “more complicated.” According to the research done at the Center for Social Policy, the advantage for STEM majors fades steadily after their first jobs, and by age 40 the earnings of people who majored in fields such as the social sciences or history have caught up. There are two reasons for this phenomenon. First, many of the latest technical skills that are in high demand today become obsolete when technology progresses. Older workers must learn the new skills on the fly, while younger workers may have learned them in school. The obsolescence of engineering or technical skills combined with increased competition from younger graduates lead to lower earnings advantage for STEM degree-holders as they grow older.
The second reason why non-STEM graduates eventually catch up in earning power with the STEM graduates is that a liberal arts education fosters valuable “soft skills” like problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability. Such skills are hard to quantify and don’t create clear-cut pathways to high-paying first jobs. But they have a long-run value in a wide variety of careers. Graduates who majored in the social sciences, history and the humanities catch up eventually because mid-career salaries are highest in management and business occupations, as well as professions requiring advanced degrees such as law. Liberal arts majors are more likely than STEM graduates to enter these fields. Many of the personal attributes most desired by employers at higher levels of an organization are, as revealed in a 2018 survey by the national Association of Colleges and Employers in the U.S., effectiveness in written communication, problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team. These are the very attributes that are developed in a liberal arts curriculum through dialogue between instructors and students, close reading and analysis of a broad range of subjects and texts. The study of the humanities enables a person to relate one human discipline to another, a quality that is demanded of top decision makers who must have the ability to see the “big picture.” Liberal arts education emphasizes the development of the whole person and goes much beyond job training. Even on narrow vocational grounds, a liberal arts education has enormous value because it builds a set of foundational capacities that will serve the students for lifetime learning in a rapidly changing job market. (To be continued).