Inspiration

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala Shares His Ideas on What Work Will Be Like in the Future

Zobel de Ayala said companies should consider flexible work arrangements for their employees to maximize their productivity and encourage better work-life integration.
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Ayala Corporation chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala shared his ideas of what the future of work will be like, and how a lot of changes will be coming soon.

“We have to embrace new skills, new methods of training, and new ways of working,” said Zobel de Ayala, also known as JAZA, in a keynote speech delivered at the J.P. Morgan – Asia Society One Step Ahead Series earlier this month.

Some of his predictions are already happening. According to Zobel de Ayala, the future of work will be largely based on three major skill sets: technical skills, social and complex cognitive skills, and soft skills.

The future of work will demand a lot of technical skills. In order to cope with the rapid changes brought about by technology, Zobel de Ayala emphasized as his first point that workers and organizations must be prepared to embrace the challenges of automation and digitization. 

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“There will be an increasing demand for specific technical skills—from programming to other areas of computer science, and more recently for skills in data science,” said Zobel de Ayala.

He also emphasized the importance of social and complex cognitive skills. Hyst two decades ago, creativity, communication, leadership, and critical thinking were not considered essential skills at work. Today, they form one of the pillars of the future of work. 

“Soft skills will also be valued, particularly, in having the curiosity and courage to pursue new ideas; a deep sense of empathy for customer pains; the agility to change course when things are not going well; and the resilience to bounce back when projects fail.”

Better Work-Life Integration

While Zobel de Ayala talked about some challenging aspects of the future of work, such as embracing technical skills, he also talked about the benefits these would reap. He said companies should consider flexible work arrangements for their employees to maximize their productivity and encourage better work-life integration. Work-life integration is a trend nowadays, characterized by the rise of the remote worker and the blurring of personal and professional life.

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Workers’ Satisfaction is Important

The future of work must also consider workers’ satisfaction. “The most advanced technologies, most innovative offices, and most generous benefit packages amount to nothing if our people—the heart and soul of any company—are disengaged and unhappy,” said Zobel de Ayala

One of the best ways to make workers happy is to infuse jobs with deeper and higher purpose. To do this, organizations must respond to the critical and underserved needs of society, which will create value for the company. “This is a very powerful idea, as it not only allows our organizations to generate meaningful impact but also encourages a higher purpose in our work, leading to increased productivity and engagement,” he said.

The Future of Work is Committed to Sustainability

Zobel de Ayala said the future success of work largely hinges on its commitment to sustainability. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals targeted to be achieved by countries in 2030. Among these goals are affordable and clean energy, zero hunger, good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, gender equality, preservation of life on land and life below water, and sustainable cities and communities.

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“At Ayala, we take this principle seriously. To concretize our commitment to shared value creation, we have deliberately aligned our strategies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is complemented by an enduring commitment to measure, verify, report, and continuously improve on our contributions to each of the SDGs,” said Zobel de Ayala.

Overall, Zobel de Ayala summarizes that the future of work will be about adapting to new skills and ways of working and learning, creating purpose-driven work, harnessing technology and innovation, and practicing sustainability.

“The continued relevance of our companies depends heavily on how well we all ride and adapt to this wave of change… I believe that if we properly harness technology, innovation, and meaningfulness, we will certainly contribute to a more progressive Philippines and Asia Pacific.”

Read the full speech here:

Doris Magsaysay Ho, Chair of Asia Society Philippines, Gucho Aguzin, Asia Pacific Chair and CEO of JP Morgan, Bobbit/Caloy Colleagues and partners in industry, ladies and gentlemen...

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Firstly, a big thank you to Doris and Bobbit for organizing this forum on Rethinking the Future of Work to Promote Inclusive Growth in the region. I am honored to be here to offer some thoughts on these highly important topics. Quite often, the Future of Work and Promoting Inclusive Growth are taken as separate matters—the topics alone already warrant their own day-long conferences due to their relevance and complexity. I commend Asia Society and JP Morgan for looking at these as intrinsically linked as we move towards our goal to build a better Asia Pacific.

The unrelenting pace of change in today’s times has certainly pushed almost every enterprise to reexamine their businesses and their relationship with employees and stakeholders. Extensive conversations on what the Future of Work will look like have yielded many questions to consider:

• For instance, given massive automation and digitalization, how will our relationship with machines change?

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• Rapid growth in entrepreneurship and start-up activity is intensifying the already fierce competition for talent—who, may I add, appear to prefer the flexibilities offered by smaller organizations. Will permanent employees be much harder to recruit, given the popularity of freelancing, the gig economy, and the growing start-up ecosystem?

• Current and possibly future generations will have new values regarding work that is authentic and will look for genuine purpose and fulfillment. How then do we maintain engagement amidst an environment of alternative facts, anti-establishment movements, and cynicism?

These forces will challenge us to reframe how we approach the Future of Work. Organizations will have to embrace new skills, methods of training, and ways of working. However, adapting to this future entails more than just utilizing new technologies and upskilling our people. I strongly believe that our companies will have to integrate, within themselves, a deeper sense of purpose to attract and retain talent, and most importantly, harness these energies needed to provide meaningful impact.

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On the first point regarding embracing of the new skills, I believe that our friends from McKinsey will provide a detailed discussion along this front later. Several of their studies have been enlightening and have informed our thinking at Ayala on the skills needed in the future. 4 | Page Due to increasing automation and digitalization there will be an increasing demand for specific technical skills—from programming, to other areas of computer science, and more recently for skills in data science. Social skills and complex cognitive skills such as leadership, creativity, communications, and critical thinking are likewise important. Lastly, soft skills will also be valued, particularly, in having the curiosity and courage to pursue new ideas; a deep sense of empathy for customer pains; the agility to change course when things are not going well; and the resilience to bounce back when projects fail. These skills require us to reimagine our traditional ways of training. In education, our teaching methods should shift towards nurturing relevant and practical skills, rather than simple memorization.

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Recently, we partnered with the Yuchengco group to combine the capabilities of our education units. Our vision is simple: we want to equip our graduates with work-relevant skills and habits to ensure that they will have the best possible career tracks.

The Philippines has its own set of challenges. We recognize that there is much work to be done, given that 3.6 million Filipino youths find themselves out-of-school, and that around 65% of fresh graduates lack the necessary skills for employment.

We are happy that our efforts to broaden the reach of our combined companies are slowly bearing fruit. For instance, our entire school network—which includes Mapua University, Malayan Colleges Laguna and Mindanao, APEC Schools, National Teachers College, and University of Nueva Caceres—currently reaches around 60,000 students, and plans are being drafted to exponentially increase our coverage. Regarding education to employment, we are institutionalizing outcomes-based education across all our schools. We continue to align our curricula to meet the needs of industry.

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An initial success story is the Professional Employment Program—or PEP—which we have been implementing in some universities. Together with employer partners, we co-design a semester-long curriculum for graduating students to build relevant skills and work habits. Through PEP, 90% of graduates who have taken the program were employed within 90 days and received starting salaries that were 20% higher than the average.

On the corporate side, companies should provide opportunities for continuous learning, leveraging technology as much as possible. Last year, we launched an internal Ayala University, our group-wide, internal hub for continuing education. Among its many programs is a recent partnership with Degreed, an online and life-long learning platform. Degreed curates and consolidates some of the best educational resources available, and empowers our employees to upskill themselves through e-books, videos, podcasts, and lectures at their own pace and time. The take up rate among our employees has been excellent.

Aside from new skills, new ways of unlocking the talents and energies of our people towards greater productivity should also be explored. For context, research suggest that employees who have greater control over their working hours and place of work report higher engagement scores. This sentiment dovetails with the emerging gig economy. While definitions vary, research by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and The Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative found that between 25% to 30% of workers in the US have participated in the flexible job market.

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To adapt to these developments, companies can consider adopting flexible work arrangements and distributed offices, to both maximize employee productivity and encourage better work-life integration. Several digital solutions can also be leveraged, such as cloud-based collaborative tools, and project management and communications platforms. People Analytics also holds much potential as it enables the efficient management of human capital and yields valuable insights with respect to employee needs, concerns, and aspirations. Furthermore, organizations can tap the wealth of expertise in the external talent market. While this is already being done in some capacity, companies can increase the usage of hybrid teams. Freelancers can supplement permanent talents on specific projects, and in the process, facilitate technology and knowledge transfer into the organization.

Bottom line, organizations would do well to build next-generation skills and new models of work and learning to anticipate tomorrow’s demands. However, I believe that there should be another key element in this formula.

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A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a series of articles focusing on the Future of Work. Within it, there was an interesting Opinion piece written by Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist, who has written extensively about best workplace practices and the science of habits and productivity. In his piece, Duhigg recounts how he, during his recent reunion with Harvard Business School classmates, saw a significant level of unhappiness among colleagues that were gainfully employed in supposedly excellent organizations. Looking at the issue broadly, he states that there is pervasive and persistent professional disappointment among workers due to a multitude of factors: difficult working environments; demanding hours; an “always-on” culture because of technology; increased competition due to globalization; and most significantly, a lack of meaning in their work.

This point about infusing our organizations and our people’s jobs with a deeper and higher purpose should be part and parcel of any discussion about the Future of Work. Ultimately, the most advanced technologies, most innovative offices, and most generous benefit packages amount to nothing if our people—the heart and soul of any company—are disengaged and unhappy.

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Reflecting on the conference’s themes, the Asia Pacific, particularly, the Philippines, provides many opportunities to tackle the twin challenges of offering meaningful work and generating broad-based inclusive growth. Several problems are still begging for solution, whether on education, healthcare, financial services, food security, housing, and livelihood. I am a strong believer in the power of the private sector to create widespread and meaningful change. Globally, we have seen the increasing prevalence of anti-establishment movements, as many public and private institutions have failed to deliver on their promises. These developments are challenging us to adopt a refreshed approach to private enterprise—one that fully responds to the critical underserved needs of society, while at the same time enables the creation of value. Thisis a very powerful idea, as it not only allows our organizations to generate meaningful impact, but also encourages a higher purpose in our work, leading to increased productivity and engagement.

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As the Opinion piece stated, “We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery…If you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically.”

At Ayala, we take this principle seriously. To concretize our commitment to shared value creation, we have deliberately aligned our strategies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is complemented by an enduring commitment to measure, verify, report, and continuously improve on our contributions to each of the SDGs.

Earlier this year, we presented our group-wide Sustainability Blueprint, where we commit to tangibly contribute along the following pillars:

• Access and Inclusivity

• Productivity and Competitiveness; and

• Responsible Growth and Innovation Each of our subsidiaries have pledged to take ownership of specific projects within these pillars, and in the process, channel our employees’ talents towards positive change.

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Some touch points on this front include, our Mynt and BPI BanKo teams which continue to expand their reach to more of our unbanked countrymen. Worth noting is that these initiatives are led by a very young, tech-savvy, and talented employee base—some of which are just a few years out of college. So far, Mynt has provided microloans to 77,000 recipients via their mobile phones. Meanwhile, BPI BanKo’s 200 branches nationwide have provided microloans of P4 billion to 60,000 clients.

Another touch point is in the field of health. AC Health has partnerships with several medical schools for residency programs and grassroots exposure to our future and newly-minted doctors through our community-based FamilyDOC clinics. As of 2018, FamilyDOC has provided affordable healthcare to 240,000 unique patients across its 54-clinic network in some of the densest locations in and around Metro Manila. We hope that through these and several other projects, and the larger vision we have outlined in our Sustainability Blueprint, are we able to provide meaningful and gainful work for our employees, and also do our part in promoting inclusive growth.

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To close, today’s dynamic and exciting times are slowly giving rise to new skills and ways of working and learning. The continued relevance of our companies depends heavily on how well we all ride and adapt to this wave of change. However, as we continue these conversations, and prepare for the future as individual companies and as a community of enterprises, let us keep in mind an important matter: let us also create and offer purpose-driven work to our teams. I believe that if we properly harness technology, innovation, and meaningfulness, we will certainly contribute to a more progressive Philippines and Asia Pacific.

I hope these thought starters contribute to your dialogue today. Thank you again to JP Morgan and Asia Society.

Thank you very much once again for inviting me today, and I wish everyone a productive, insightful, and meaningful conference.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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