How Asean can navigate the 4IR | Inquirer Opinion

How Asean can navigate the 4IR

/ 04:15 AM December 13, 2023

Bangkok—Simply put, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterized by the convergence of digital, physical, and biological technologies. This convergence has led to breakthroughs in fields like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, biotechnology, and the Internet of Things. This sudden integration of automation and AI has in turn led to challenges for the global workforce.

Existing state of play in Asean. Traditional job roles are evolving or becoming obsolete, leading to concerns about job displacement so that reskilling and upskilling are essential to help workers adapt to the changing job landscape. With Asean being the fastest growing internet market in the world, with 125,000 new users coming onto the internet every day, the digital divide between those with access to technology and those without deepens, causing disparities in education, job opportunities, and access to information. In the rural areas and developing countries in Asean such as Cambodia and Laos PDR, limited connectivity and access to digital tools hinder participation in the digital economy.

The digitalization wave has not only led to substantial growth in the goods and services sector but has also given rise to novel forms of employment, fundamentally altering the landscape of the future of work. Remote work has essentially become the norm, and the pandemic has ushered in a fresh breed of entrepreneurs and workers, known as the gig economy, which has undergone a significant transformation within the Asean region. It has become increasingly common for individuals to juggle two or even three distinct jobs simultaneously. A growing number of entrepreneurs have emerged in various roles, such as private hire drivers, food delivery providers, and online service providers.

Future-proofing Asean’s workforce. To truly harness the potential of the 4IR, Asean must prioritize building a robust and agile talent pool that can navigate the challenges and innovations of this transformative era.


The 4IR offers opportunities to develop new markets and business models, with thriving sectors such as e-commerce, fintech, and digital entertainment emerging out of the digital revolution.

In Thailand, the government has been pushing the “Thailand 4.0” economic policy, which aims to transform the nation’s economy into an innovation-driven one.

Asean must also reevaluate their education systems to align them with the demands of the 4IR. A greater emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, coupled with increased digital literacy programs, will ensure that students graduate with relevant skills. With the push toward smart manufacturing, there’s a need for specialized training institutions and programs to upskill the local workforce in both information technology and operational technology.

For example, Singapore has strategically positioned itself as a global tech hub through initiatives like “SkillsFuture.” The Singapore government has constantly promoted lifelong learning and upskilling, providing subsidies and grants to encourage individuals to acquire skills relevant to 4IR technologies, such as data analytics, AI, and cybersecurity.


Importance of digital access. To fully participate in the 4IR, access to digital technology is essential. Governments must invest in digital infrastructure and ensure that rural and marginalized communities have access to the internet and digital tools. Indonesia, with its vast archipelago, faces unique challenges in ensuring equitable access to 4IR opportunities. Its “Indonesia Broadband Plan” aims to provide internet access to remote areas, enabling rural communities to participate in the digital economy.

Empowering Asean. The 4IR has had a transformative impact on the nations within the Asean region, significantly enhancing the well-being of its citizens by modernizing the delivery of fundamental social services. The key to Asean’s success in this rapidly evolving economic landscape lies in its ability to empower its people, fostering an environment where talent can flourish, ensuring equal opportunities for all.


The time to invest in nurturing talent and fostering innovation is now. The dividends of these efforts will undoubtedly propel the Asean region toward a future characterized by sustained growth and prosperity for all its citizens. This transformation is not just a possibility; Asean must remain relevant and competitive in the 21st century. The Nation/Asia News Network

Vijay Eswaran is a prominent Asian thought leader, philanthropist, speaker, and author. He is the founder and executive chair of the QI Group of Companies, a multinational conglomerate headquartered in Hong Kong that has diverse business interests in education, retail, direct selling, real estate, hospitality, and luxury products.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media titles in the region.

TAGS: 4IR, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Commentary, Fourth Industrial Revolution

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.