By KWANCHAI RUNGFAPAISARN
Rebecca J Stoeckle, vice president of the Education Development Centre (EDC), lauded the Thailand 4.0 development agenda, which she called “a wonderful centralisation of government initiatives” with enormous investment in infrastructure.
“We also see rising challenges brought by an ageing population. With those key phenomena, it is critical to emphasise human capital development where nobody is going to be left behind, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said.
“The main concern is that a lot of foreign direct investment [FDI] flowing into Southeast Asian countries is not being invested in local human capital development. They have not taken advantage of the opportunity to institutionalise ways to make sure that FDI actually does translate into local human capital development,” said Stoeckle.
“Examples can be found in Thailand’s automotive industry over the past 20 years, where the local people’s skills have not sufficiently been upgraded. That has spurred the same concern in the case of the S-Curve industry under Thailand 4.0 today.
“We want to show you a good example of a German partner who has worked on that. They have helped create a system that engages vocational schools in the industries and vice versa. We thus want to make sure that we can introduce such a dual-track system locally in the country and develop the local talent pipeline. As Thailand progresses into industry 4.0, this will be absolutely critical. And issues related to human resources development should be more cross-sectoral, rather than just a matter of a single ministry taking care of it,” said Stoeckle.
EDC is a global non-profit organisation that offers lasting solutions to improve education, promote health and expand economic opportunity. Since 1958, the centre has been a leader in designing, implementing and evaluating powerful and innovative programmes in more than 80 countries around the world. EDC has also implemented Accelerating Work Achievement and Readiness for Employment 2 (AWARE 2), which is to realise an impressive mandate: to position technical and vocational education and training (TVET) graduates for success in the digital economy.
Funded by JP Morgan and implemented by EDC, AWARE 2 has provided timely, innovative skills training and work-based learning opportunities to Asean youth who are prepared to enter the workforce and innovate in the digital economies in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. Now in its third and final year, the programme seeks to highlight and further build upon the success of its programme through continued innovation and by building new alliances and opportunities.
The AWARE 2 leadership was convened in Bangkok recently to share some of the best practices and lessons from the project, with an aim to identify additional partners and opportunities to advance AWARE 2’s reach and impact.
“For EDC, we focus on enhancement of soft skills, creativity, teamwork, initiative, in addition to technical skills for our TVET students to be able to succeed in a world where jobs are much more fluid and people are moving around from firm to firm. As we have seen, most large firms are successful largely due to great support from SMEs. So we need to develop more students who are able to drive innovation in those small and medium-sized firms so that they are not falling behind. Let’s say innovation is not only produced by the company’s top specialists or bosses, but can also be contributed by young staff who are able to introduce new business models,” said Stoeckle.
TVET programmes need to be much more adaptable and train students to perform cross-sectorally, said Stoeckle. They also need to create programmes that are more flexible in terms of curricula and faculty who are no longer identical in skills and backgrounds.
“We want to promote authentic engagement between industry and schools,” she said, adding that it was interesting to see Australian university graduates who wanted to get a good job go for vocational training.
Regarding the question on how technological disruption affects the workplace and educational sector, Stoeckle said she did not consider herself qualified to speak on the subject.
“What I can reaffirm is that no matter to what extent a company is disrupted, we want our TVET students to disrupt themselves to stay ahead. We want them to be able to disrupt their own systems before being disrupted by the systems. That is why we would rather produce workers with diverse perspectives and backgrounds than seeing hundreds of employees with homogeneous profiles. We believe in the power of diversity. With this, the companies would be able to match their labour skill sets that they bring to the table, making them relevant to the real needs of industries,” said Stoeckle.
Speaking about the shortage of human capital in the workplace today, Stoeckle said she found there were enough competent workers out there but they just had not got the right jobs – the ones that fit their competencies and the company’s needs.
“I think this is largely due to cultural factors in which a family, especially disadvantaged families, always make tremendous sacrifices to pay for the university education of their children. Often their students do not achieve the credentials or the skills that they actually need to get a good job. So we try to strengthen the TVET programmes and foster a new perception that students can have a good job in the digital economy without paying for a university education. And for employers, it is often a wonderful bargain because entry-level salaries of TVET students are low, while the skill levels are good enough,” she said.
“There are not enough young people to take all the good jobs [in the industry], so we must find a way to give a real opportunity for students of TVET,” she added.
“We see the same gaps in the development of industry-ready skilled workers for the digital economy in Asean, especially Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. We saw opportunities to further develop vocational education and saw governments’ commitments to reforming education in Thailand and Indonesia, while we witnessed real change in the education system in the Philippines. It is our hope that we can introduce new ways of bridging the gaps between what education can offer and what industry really needs.”
Stoeckle said that EDC, however, is focusing on two things: first, to get industry to engage with the classroom, opening up faculties’ perspectives on what is really happening in the real business world. And, second, to develop human capital as capable, adaptive and innovative in the emerging digital economy.
“We just want to make sure students in Asia get quality jobs, approaching their careers [in a way that] prepares them for the longer pathway, not just entry-level jobs. We want to understand why the government policy is not actually translating into more opportunities for young people. We hope that through our three-year project, our partners are able to identify the gaps and needs and address them all around the ecosystems, from policy to industry engagements,” she said.