By The Nation
THAILAND faces a chronic shortage of qualified technical and vocational workers across all industries, due to the challenges faced by both public and private tertiary education in keeping pace with industry demands, as well as a cultural bias towards a more academic education.
These were among key findings from a year-long study conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU), in partnership with financial services giant JP Morgan, on the skills challenges faced by Asean economies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
The shortage of skilled workers is especially pronounced in Thailand’s key growth industries like the automotive, information communications and technology (ICT) and tourism sectors, the study found. Addressing this shortfall is necessary if the country is to raise its productivity and realise its ambition of becoming a high income economy by 2027.
Currently, about 35 percent of Thai students are enrolled in vocational institutions, and of this group, a large number of graduates were not ready for industry, the study found. This suggested a need to improve the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) education, especially in the face of a cultural bias against the field.
The study said the skills challenge was compounded by the fact that curricula in public and private tertiary institutions did not reflect the progressive needs of industry, such as the research and development (R&D) work in the automotive industry or the fast-changing skills requirements in ICT.
Also, low proficiency among the Thai workforce in foreign languages, notably English, posed a challenge for the country to compete internationally.
“Thailand enjoys near full employment but there is urgency for the country to adopt a more technology-driven and less labour-dependent growth strategy to attain its goal of becoming a high income economy in the next 10 years. Education and training programmes need to be accelerated to equip the workforce with the necessary skill sets and communication skills such as proficiency in English,” Arnoud de Meyer, the president of SMU, said.
The study recommended policy incentives at the national level to attract more talent to train in technical and vocational schools, helping to mitigate known skills challenges. This needed to be accompanied by a concerted effort from all stakeholders to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes in schools.
The government should also explore more innovative ways to spur the private sector with incentives to take a lead in skills training, either in collaboration with the government or educational institutions, the study said. This would help to better align the curriculum to meet industry’s skills needs.
Efforts to strengthen the teaching of soft skills and English could be stepped up. The government could provide incentives to private educators to work with the formal education sector to play a larger role on this front.
In response to the findings, JP Morgan and global non-profit research and development group Education Development Centre (EDC) launched a workforce readiness programme that aims to bridge the skills gap.
The Accelerated Work Achievement and Readiness for Employment 2 (Aware2) project is a programme that helps young people in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines gain the technical and employability skills that employers are demanding in the region’s dynamic digital economy.
“EDC’s goal is to develop a new model for demand-driven education that will prepare Asean youth for lifelong careers in the digital economy,” said David Offensend, EDC president and CEO.
“We know that technology will create new jobs as well as replace them through automation. By preparing students with higher-level cognitive skills such as creativity, design thinking and applied analysis and problem-solving we can ensure they will have the adaptive ability to anticipate and respond to the shifts in demand in the evolving technology sector,” he said.
The programme will work with the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand’s ICT committee and the director of the Thai Institute of Vocational Education to adapt the curriculum with a focus on app development and jewellery design.
“Thailand has the ambition of becoming a key technology and knowledge-intensive production base for the region and JP Morgan is fully supportive of this goal. Clearly, a highly productive workforce is crucial to this end and JP Morgan is backing 14 workforce-readiness programmes across the Asia Pacific region focused on these sectors, including in Thailand,” Chayotid Kridakon, the firm’s senior country officer for Thailand, said.