With its need for a more skilled and technology-oriented workforce, the technological revolution is reshaping the labour market across the world. Building on its remarkable progress in expanding access to education among the population, the Thai government is now focusing on upgrading the country’s human resource skills to meet these new demands from the business world of today and tomorrow.
The exponential pace of technological change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents a great challenge for Thailand and its ambitions of driving forward economic transformation to be more oriented towards high technology. In response to this challenge, the Thai government is implementing comprehensive reforms to the educational system with the aim of ensuring the country’s human resources are able not only to keep pace with the new technology but also to deliver their own R&D and innovations.
As Thailand is focusing on attracting investment in high-technology industries to push forward its economic growth, many of the human resource development programs currently being ramped up in the country are designed to meet the new demand from new technologies coming from accelerated investment after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key approaches at the higher education level include improving the standards of universities as well as vocational and technical schools. This is being achieved through cooperation with international agencies and the business sector along with promoting the participation of businesses in designing relevant curricula and providing work-based learning programs. Furthermore, the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation (MHESI), the agency responsible for steering the country’s tertiary education, is open to the idea of considering greater flexibility in the curricula as well as introducing new incentives and measures to improve learning efficiency.
Thailand’s higher education system currently has around 160 public and private universities, technical schools and vocational schools producing approximately 350,000 university graduates and 200,000 technical school and vocational school graduates each year. Of these, science graduates now account for the majority following the Thai government’s sustained support in attracting students to science and technology fields.
Official data from the Ministry of Labour show that 62% of graduates from the vocational and technical school system and 45% from universities were from science-related fields in 2020. Around 60% of students at the higher education level were reported to be attending universities, with the remainder at vocational and technical schools during 2020 and 2021.
Of the total students in the vocational system, 16% are studying in fields related to industries identified as part of the country’s first S-Curve (agricultural and biotechnology, smart electronics, affluent medical and wellness tourism, next-generation automotive and food for the future), with 2% in fields related to the new S-Curve industries (biofuels and biochemicals, digital economy, medical hub, automation and robotics, and aviation and logistics). Meanwhile 8% of the students attending universities in Thailand are studying in fields related to the first S-Curve and 18% in fields related to the new S-Curve industries.
Fostering Collaboration to Meet Demand for Skills
It is estimated that new demand for human resources in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)1, Thailand’s flagship special economic zone for targeted industries, will reach a total of approximately 477,000 positions over the next five years. Of the total new manpower required, 24% will be in the digital sector and 23% in logistics. The remainder will be divided between smart electronics (12%), next-generation automotive (11%), robotics (8%), aviation (7%), the rail system (5%), tourism and wellness (4%), medical hub (3%) and merchant marine (3%).
The results from a survey by the World Economic Forum entitled “The Future of Jobs 2020”2 showed that Thailand scored 55% for the digital skill of its population and 60.5% for the business relevance of its tertiary education on a weighted average basis in 2019-2020.
Delving into the adjustments made by the surveyed firms during the COVID-19 pandemic, 84% said they accelerated the digitalisation of their work processes, 75% reported that they provided opportunities for working remotely, and 50% indicated that they expedited the automation of tasks.
The survey also probed into foreseeable changes in job roles. The top five emerging job roles identified by the surveyed firms were, in descending order, data analysts and scientists, digital marketing and strategy specialists, big data specialists, A.I. and machine learning specialists. In terms of the top five redundant skills in the near future, they cited data entry clerks; administrative and executive secretaries; accounting, bookkeeping and payroll clerks; assembly and factory workers; and construction labourers.
For reskilling and upskilling programs, the survey revealed that the top five skills in focus comprised analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, critical thinking and analysis, leadership and social influence, and complex problem solving. Some 90% of the surveyed firms said they expect their employees to pick up the required new skills on the job and 80% said they will either outsource certain functions or hire new staff with relevant skills.
To help Thailand’s higher education system cope with the new human resource demands, the Thai government has been implementing demand-driven human resource development programs to produce highly-skilled and technology-oriented workers. Related government agencies have curated 13 programs that involve the private sector in the education and training of human resources to suit the various needs of businesses moving forward.
Key to this approach is Cooperative and Work Integrated Education (CWIE) which seeks to engage business in jointly designing curricular at universities and vocational schools to better equip students with the skills needed for the modern workplace and in providing cognitive apprenticeships.
CWIE will better prepare students to enter the job market by furnishing them with a detailed understanding of future business demands for expertise and skills, the potential career paths open to them, and the future challenges they may face. Meanwhile, the business sector will have a better opportunity to improve the competency of its manpower by ensuring they possess the required skills, attitudes and values, while also benefiting from access to incentive programs. The MHESI has set a target of doubling the number of students receiving education through CWIE from 102,000 in 2020 to 205,000 by 2024.
Furthermore, the MHESI expects to drive engagement by the private sector in reskilling and upskilling programs such as Work-integrated Learning (WiL), which incentivises business to provide education at working facilities by allowing them to deduct associated expenses when calculating their corporate income tax liability. To be eligible for this corporate income tax exemption, companies are required to recruit students attending universities or vocational schools as staff for at least two years.
Under the Talent Mobility program, personnel with science, technology, and innovation expertise from universities and government research institutions are encouraged to work in the industry temporarily to increase the competitiveness of entrepreneurs. For the Dual Vocational Training Program, students will spend not less than half of their courses training for a career and this will be counted as study time in both the academic institutions and the companies.
Meanwhile the EEC is collaborating with universities and vocational schools located in the special economic zone area on offering incentives to businesses to provide scholarship programs and short-term courses to support manpower development.