Locals still struggle with adapting to Industry 4.0

February 20, 2018 | 08:00
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has become a buzzword in Vietnam, but locals rarely regard it as a technology that helps them make more money online and improve their daily lives. What many are most concerned about is that they could lose their jobs, as robots might be capable of handling the position they are in.
locals still struggle with adapting to industry 40
Startups like GotIt! leverage the opportunities Industry 4.0 brings, but many youths still have trouble to deal with the changes

Farmer Nguyen Thi Hue has been making a living by planting banana trees under Long Bien bridge in Hanoi for the past two decades. Her daily work is to take care of the banana orchard and harvest bananas for sale at the end of the day. She is fond of surfing the internet on her five-inch Asus smartphone. She is also a Facebook user, with an account opened for her by her nephew.

Instead of enjoying the South Korean films she used to love, Hue is now keen on logging into her Facebook account in order to read the posts of joy, anger, and love from her children, nephews, and relatives. Such posts make her smile and, on occasion, tear up. That is why she prefers Facebook.

Aside from going online, she often joins in idle talk with her friends, including vendors selling iced tea on Long Bien bridge and workers doing repairs on the historical bridge. It seems that the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 has yet to affect Hue and her friends. They just own a smartphone to take selfies and souvenir photos for their relatives, and then share them on their Facebook accounts.

They do not know what deep impacts Industry 4.0 has on the world economy. A lot of industries have seen fundamental changes with newly-emerged business models. Cutting-edge technologies enable startups to gain advantages over those using now-obsolete solutions.

They cannot make sense of the cloud, driverless automobiles, robots, and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. In their eyes, cutting-edge technology is associated with the appearance of Grab and Uber drivers in green and blue clothes. “Grab and Uber bikers work just like traditional motorbike taxi drivers who normally cool off their heels here, but they look somewhat posh in their uniforms,” says Hue.

26-year-old Phan Phuong Duc, a maths teacher at the combined primary and secondary Ngoi Sao Hanoi School, is not well-grounded in Industry 4.0 either. He felt the changes in technology when his colleagues began to use powerpoint presentations in their lectures instead of writing on the blackboard. But working as an online tutor with the mobile app GotIt! has enabled him to ‘touch’ technology and change his life over the past two years. The app was designed by Tran Viet Hung in the US tech capital Silicon Valley.

Duc graduated from the University of Science under the Hanoi-based Vietnam National University. He studied maths in English. Working for the online app helps him reinforce his knowledge in maths and English. Duc maintains a tutorship to earn $100 per month.

According to founder and CEO Tran Viet Hung, Vietnam now has some 300 Vietnamese experts registered for the GotIt! system. Like Uber and Grab apps, GotIt! brings potential job opportunities to hundreds of thousands of experts. Tens of thousands work very actively on the system, half of them reported making their main income from GotIt!.

GotIt! inspires people all over the world to earn more money by sharing their knowledge on the system, regardless of where they are.

Learning about technology platforms in Industry 4.0 costs Hue, Tuan, and others a lot of time and effort. Currently, not every Industry 4.0 platform can become useful in Vietnam. For instance, self-driving vehicles would become powerless in the face of heavy traffic congestions in Vietnam’s big cities. Miners seem to pay no attention to cloud computing services and the development of a sharing economy, while tailors are not concerned with how Industry 4.0 benefits the fast fashion boom. What they pay the most attention to is the risk of losing their jobs.

Instead of thinking about the products they want to buy for the Lunar New Year or the destinations they want to visit, workers at Canon Vietnam in the northern province of Bac Ninh raised inconclusive discussions about the factory’s installation of new automated machines and robots for production. “We could lose our jobs,” Le Anh Tung, a Canon worker, said and turned his eyes to his two sleeping children. Both Tung and his wife work for Canon Vietnam. The couple plans to return to their hometown to open a small-scale business once the automated machines and robots take their current jobs.

Canon Vietnam has been accelerating the automation process of its production in the past years. As a result, automation helped slash the firm’s total number of labourers from 13,000 recorded seven years ago to the existing figure of 8,000. Various positions and jobs are now being undertaken by robots.

Canon Vietnam often purchases only specialised equipment, not expensive completely-built robots. Canon engineers then assemble the specialised equipment with others to create finished machines for production, thus helping to save on the total costs, a Canon Vietnam representative said.

Apart from Canon, other firms, especially those in the sectors of garments, textiles, and footwear, are considering the installation of automated equipment and robots. As many as 86 per cent of workers in the sector of garments and textiles will be replaced by automated production lines and robots in the upcoming decades, according to a recent ILO report.

In countries with an abun dant labour supply like Vietnam, technological applications could make a number of manual labourers jobless. In the wake of the movement of of applications and technologies toward Industry 4.0, Vietnam needs to set forth employee support policies in a timely manner, to aid those vulnerable to the adverse impacts of Industry 4.0.

Running a small-scale business in the homeland is a final solution for Canon worker Tung. He now desires to benefit from Industry 4.0 by learning to improve his technical skills. “But where I can learn to better my skills remains a problem,” Tung said.

Google Trends show that Industry 4.0 has become the most searched-for keyword in Vietnam in the recent past. It can be said that Industry 4.0 urges enterprises to think about ways to satisfy customer demand, better productivity and quality, reduce production costs, and further meet environmental requirements. For intellectuals, Industry 4.0 means a tool to enjoy a better and convenient life and ease their access to and information gathering on the internet.

Technology is changing lives. This rings true, at least for Uber and Grab drivers. Technology not only changed their business, but also brought in a main source of income. Interestingly, Vietnam quickly acknowledged the value of applications like Uber and Grab and approved the pilot execution. This could help facilitate co-operation opportunities between local and foreign firms, while encouraging local technology startups to deal with social issues.

GotIt! set a goal of establishing a system of thousands of experts, including tens of thousands from Vietnam, but it failed to reach the goal for Vietnam. Just 5 per cent of Vietnamese experts applying for jobs on GotIt! met the requirements.

“It seems that local youths are not ready for Industry 4.0, while those in other countries are keen on the global trend thanks to their advantages in qualification, foreign language skills, and industriousness,” said the founder of GotIt!, elaborating that younger Vietnamese generations should not put high hopes on opportunities emerging from Industry 4.0.

By Anh Hoa

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional