After a poor showing by Thai students in an international evaluation, hotel operators are urging the government to improve students' practical skills before the country loses more jobs to foreign workers.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Thai students ranked 58th for maths and science and 64th for reading among 81 countries in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment rating, the lowest scores recorded by Thai students in years.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said the hotel industry has been hindered by poor English proficiency among new graduates for many years as the education system fails to provide them with the practical skills required.
"Thai students study very hard, but practically they have been unable to apply knowledge to their jobs, especially in the hospitality sector. Thai students have very weak English skills compared with people from the Philippines and Indonesia," Mrs Marisa said.
As Thai hotels can only hire workers from Southeast Asian nations that signed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand, more hotels in the South opt to hire students from the Philippines or Indonesia, or utilise a short-term internship programme with Indonesia.
She said foreign workers account for 30% of low-ranking hotel positions in Bangkok, with most of them coming from Myanmar.
In addition to English, hotels also lack workers with other language skills, particularly Mandarin and Russian. This problem was exposed when visitors from those two markets started to flood into Thailand four years ago.
Suksit Suvunditkul, president of the southern chapter of the THA, said hiring foreign trainees is a popular solution for international hotel chains in the South eager to fill vacant posts during the high season.
In general, the English skills of workers from the Philippines and India are much stronger than students from Thailand, said Mr Suksit.
He said most Thai students must enrol in training programmes with hotels or have working experience of 6-12 months to improve fluency in English.
Mr Suksit said Thai-owned hotels still prefer to hire Thai workers as their wages are less than those of foreign workers, as the law mandates a higher minimum rate for foreign workers in certain positions.