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Global leaders, experts convene at ABAC Forum on Skills and Services of the Future

Understanding the need for urgent action to ensure that talent and businesses alike are prepared to leverage on emerging technological trends as part of the services sector’s broader strategy for growth and recovery in the Asia-Pacific region, APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) REIWG Services Trade Lead Sabin M. Aboitiz brought together global thought leaders and experts to exchange insights and best practices at the recent ABAC Public-Private Dialogue held last July 12.

“The race to provide faster and better services to more customers is definitely a heated one, but I believe the APEC region is ready and capable to secure a strategic position in that race,” Aboitiz emphasized in his opening message.

Centered on the theme ‘Sharpening Your Edge: Skills & Services for the 21st Century,’ the program hosted by Aboitiz Group Chief Reputation & Sustainability Officer Ginggay Hontiveros, tackled the increasingly digital-enabled service deliveries and how they affect the future of the workplace as well as the capabilities of the workforce. 

“It’s no surprise that the Services sector has always actually been the people-centric sector, which is why the sector contributes more to employment typically than it does even to GDP. Even in the analog economy, a services firm would spend up to 80% of its outgoings on human resources,” explained Forum Moderator Prof. Jane Drake-Brockman, founder and director of the Australian Services Roundtable, and co-convenor of the Asia Pacific Services Coalition. 

In addressing the questions pertaining to human capital in relation to the increasingly digitized services space, the program featured two panels consisting of global leaders from the public and private sector, as well as the academe. 

Taking part in the session on Services Transformation and the Future of Work were Janos Ferencz, Trade Policy Analyst at Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Dr. David Hardoon, Managing Director of Aboitiz Data Innovation (ADI); and Adam Bregu, Director of Business Development and Partnerships of Startup Genome.

“Upgrading skills and adapting them to the requirements of the services-based digital economy should be a policy priority in APEC and it should be a policy priority globally,” Ferencz shared. “Such policies could be related to improving skills or putting in place labor market policies that promote the inclusion of women, enhanced matching between employers and employees, and aim at reducing the negative effects on displaced workers and also on workers that experienced reductions in wages.”

Joining the discussion for the second session on Upskilling and the Future Workforce were Michelle Rubio, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer of UnionBank; Dr. Jikyeong Kang, President and Dean of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM); Dr. Michael Fung, Executive Director, Institute for the Future of Education at Tecnologico de Monterrey; and Prof. Dong Sun Park, Lead Shepherd of the APEC Human Resources Development Working Group (HRDWG). 

Among the forum’s key points involved the case for lifelong learning as a universal good as a means to ensure that the workforce constantly evolves as new technologies, services and business processes come to the fore.

“The organization and its people must have an alignment to evolve and be relevant in addressing shifts. This means having a culture of learning across levels that constantly challenges processes and behaviors in order to find the best way to undertake work,” UnionBank Chief Human Resources Officer Michelle Rubio suggested. “As businesses and economies rebuild, those that take the opportunity to remake and future-proof their workforce will pull ahead of competition, thrive, and face the future with a better chance of success.”

Further fortifying this sentiment was ADI Managing Director Dr. David Hardoon who pushed for a technological and data-driven culture at an organizational level to create an enabling environment for talent and skills development. 

“Upskilling is not enough. These should be supplemented with programs with respect to overall culture and mindset within the organization,” Hardoon remarked. “But how do we incorporate data, AI, technology into the mindset of the culture? This doesn’t happen without the right nudge or preemptive planning, effectively, which is critical. It is never about technology, it’s about the capacity and will of adopting it.”

For her part, AIM President and Dean Dr. Kang advocated for a holistic approach towards talent development—one that involves the active participation of all its stakeholders. 

“Businesses should take on upskilling as a core investment that will deliver business and economic value. Governments should go beyond and above rhetoric and take concrete steps for skills development. They have to create platforms, adapt to an agile approach, create a pipeline of employment-inducing projects and formulate a national skills policy,” Kang asserted.

This was echoed by APEC Group on Services Convenor Thomas Fine in his closing message, who urged the public sector to enact policies that will be more conducive to services trade and favorable to the human capital. 

“Governments must avoid unwise and brittle barriers to trade, but rather, enable the flexibility that our suppliers, workers, and consumers require to make adjustments to their economic behavior in response to new challenges,” Fine noted. 

“Businesses, too, must be flexible to provide their services in new ways as the needs of their customers change. And above all, workers must be prepared with the skills they need to respond and thrive in a rapidly changing environment,” he concluded.

Watch the webinar videos here:

Sabin Aboitiz, Aboitiz Group
Jane Drake Brockman, Australian Services Roundtable

Janos Ferencz, OECD
David Hardoon, Aboitiz Data Innovation
Adam Bregu, Startup Genome [PPT]

Michael Fung, Technologico de Monterrey [PPT]
Jikyeong Kang, Asian Institute of Management
Michelle Rubio, Unionbank Philippines
Dong Sun Park, APEC Human Resources Development Working Group [PPT]
Thomas Fine, APEC Working Group on Services

Download the Conference Report:
2022 PPD Conference Report: Sharpening your Edge