Interview: Fortunato T de la Peña

How can the Philippines ensure its workforce is prepared for the opportunities and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?

FORTUNATO DE LA PEÑA: There are more than 140,000 engineering and IT graduates per year, and the approach of the 4IR will present them with ample opportunities. While many of these graduates are currently employed by the business process outsourcing sector, they can readily switch to robotics, automation, data science and so forth, since they have the talent. We have adopted a whole-of-government approach in ensuring that our workforce is prepared for the 4IR. Government agencies have bridging programmes in place to hone the skills that will be needed in such an environment.

Where do you see room for improvement in the Philippines’ innovation ecosystem?

DE LA PEÑA: An innovation ecosystem is already in place. We have incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, universities, service providers, partner corporations, media, funders, angel investors, as well as support organisations from the public and private sector. Interconnecting these sectors requires a major undertaking to improve the country’s competitiveness in the 4IR. A better system of market research and analysis would definitely help. We also need to regularly revisit our incentive policies, especially for entrepreneurs and researchers in the ecosystem. Additionally, all necessary infrastructure should be in place and well maintained.

How do you assess the role of local-foreign partnerships in accelerating the growth of start-ups?

DE LA PEÑA: Local-foreign partnerships have gaps, especially in regard to policies surrounding the transfer of knowledge, skills and technology. With policies in place, the growth of local start-ups will be accelerated, granting access to international markets and foreign partners. On the government level these policies can be formulated in the regional groupings such as ASEAN or APEC.

What key obstacles will the new Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy (i3S) likely face, and in which areas does the Philippines have a competitive edge?

DE LA PEÑA: The key obstacles that i3S is likely to face are non-alignment of supply and demand in human resources, risk aversion by financial institutions, very traditional investment priorities or preferences among local capitalists, and slow countryside development.

The Philippines has a competitive edge in electronics in terms of human resources, but investors in high value-added activities like integrated circuit design and product development are needed. IT and business process management, aerospace, auto and auto parts, tourism, furniture, garments and creative arts are areas in which the country can also have a competitive edge. Agri-business could also be a growth area if we harness all available technologies for agriculture and maximise the use of agricultural resources.

Given the high smartphone penetration rates and data consumption patterns, how will e-commerce evolve in the short to medium term?

DE LA PEÑA: E-commerce will take over traditional commerce in the medium term, and software development will flourish in the short term. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ launch of InstaPay, an electronic fund transfer system that allows for instant transactions, will accelerate online trade and payment procedures.

What role can new digital technologies play in facilitating growth in tourism?

DE LA PEÑA: Digital technologies can facilitate growth in the tourism sector by making it easier for tourists to figure out where to go, what to do, what the costs are, and so on. Visitors should have an accurate idea of what to expect when they travel to the Philippines and how best to enjoy our country and its plentiful offerings. Digital technologies should also allow for the convenient transition between business and leisure travel.