Nearly 30,000 Filipinos working in the telco industry are safe from getting laid off as a result of automation, as their bosses guarantee they will be reassigned, not removed, if their jobs are taken over by artificial intelligence (AI).

Telco executives from the largest connectivity providers are committed to protecting the jobs of their 30,000-strong workforce even as their industry is the first to automate most of their tasks.

Globe Telecom Inc. president and CEO Ernest Cu said the telco has laid out a five-year strategy to invest in the retooling of its more than 8,000 workers and make them valuable in the AI shift.

Likewise, Globe is looking at multiple ways on how AI can improve both its telco and non-telco services. In the process, Cu said the company would create fresh opportunities, particularly for data engineers and scientists, to run its network.

Globe wants to deploy AI in developing a customer service channel that can understand and respond in conversational Filipino. For e-wallet pioneer GCash, Globe eyes the use of AI for credit scoring, speeding up the process of loan disbursement.

Cu said all of these innovations require human intelligence - from design and

development to operations and maintenance - making it impossible to erase workers in the equation.

'Our focus is to minimize the risk of resorting to layoffs by aligning the skills of our workforce with the evolving demands of the AI-integrated workplace,' Cu told The STAR.

Converge ICT Solutions Inc. also employs a similar program within the organization, investing in the reskilling of its nearly 4,600 workers to shield them from automation.

Converge CEO and co-founder Dennis Anthony Uy said the company is retaining human agents in customer service, one of the departments prone to automation. Cu explained that AI has yet to develop the capacity to respond on a case-to-case basis, and this is the reason customers still ask for live personnel to address their complaints.

In the event that AI replaces someone's job, Uy said Converge assigns them to another division where they are most useful. Like Globe, Converge intends to keep its workforce intact even as it automates its network to improve services.

'There has been a redistribution of our workers whose functions are now being done by AI, and they are trained for higher level skills or for other specialized tasks in the value chain,' Uy told The STAR.

PLDT Inc. - the largest telco employer in the Philippines with over 17,000 workers - calls for a fair and responsible use of AI, warning that automation without guidance can put businesses and economies at risk.

PLDT chairman, president and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan told The STAR that the telco is ready to work with regulators in forming policies for AI use in the country.

'With the transformational power of AI and its helpful new applications, it is crucial to balance these benefits while upholding core company values. It is not enough to merely adopt AI, PLDT believes this must be done with a deep sense of ethics and responsibility,' he said.

In 2023, roughly 191,000 workers for tech giants in the US were laid off, coming largely from the most decorated innovators of the world. Business tracker Crunchbase expects the tech industry to continue with these layoffs, as they find ways to exploit AI in their day-to-day operations.

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