Big data to keep Thai workers afloat

Big data to keep Thai workers afloat

Job seekers flock to a job fair in Phitsanulok province in search of work amid the Covid-19 crisis which has hit the economy hard.
Job seekers flock to a job fair in Phitsanulok province in search of work amid the Covid-19 crisis which has hit the economy hard.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Thailand early this year, businesses have been falling like dominoes. Millions of people have lost their jobs in the country's worst economic downturn in recent memory. Yet some jobs have survived the pandemic better than others.

Which are they? Why are they resilient to the crisis? What jobs will be in demand when the pandemic is over?

Knowing the answers will help the workforce and businesses adjust themselves to the new job landscape. It will also help the education system produce much-needed human resources for future job markets.

According to a study by Yongyuth Chalamwong, research director for Human Resource Policy, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), the country's unemployment rate is now the highest it's been in the past 20 years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Business operators have also suffered as the economy looks set to get worse before it gets any better.

To prepare for the post-coronavirus job market, we need timely and accurate information. We need to have an accurate pulse on the current job market to detect its major trends. Conventional job surveys cannot deliver. But ploughing and analysing big data systematically can.

Since the TDRI is already engaging in research to build a database on job market needs with big data to support education reform, we have used this research to identify the jobs affected by the coronavirus pandemic and those that have survived.

Entitled "Building Labour Demand Database Using Online Job Posting Analysis (Big Data) to Promote Labour Market Responsiveness in the Education Sector", the research is supported by EdTech Fund, Education Ministry. It started in 2018 when Dr Teerakiat Jareonsettasin was education minister.

To find out about the job situation during the pandemic, we used artificial intelligence to analyse big data from 12 job search websites. The findings are alarming.

During the first seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of job openings drastically declined by 69% compared with the same period from January to July last year. From 315,000 hirings, the number of job openings was down to only 95,000.

The monthly breakdown also shows that the number of job openings has declined steadily. From 20,007 jobs in January, it was 20,705 in February, 15,765 in March, 9,479 in April, 10,068 in May, 8,018 in June and 10,582 in July.

Interestingly, jobs related to science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) weren't spared. The top five jobs affected by the pandemic are technicians (86%), civil engineers (80%), quality control analysts (79%), occupational health and safety specialists (78%) and electrical engineers (77%).

Meanwhile, the five least affected during the coronavirus pandemic are as follows: Information security analysts (6 percent), information technology-related jobs (17%), Business Intelligence Analysts (30%), Web Developers (35%) and computer systems engineers/architects (38%).

It is clear. Jobs in information technology (IT) are much less affected. This is not surprising. Thailand has long suffered a serious lack of IT personnel so they remain much in demand. The government, therefore, should launch re-training programmes to equip workers with IT skills so they can enter the job markets with decent earnings when the economy picks up.

Big data analysis has made it clear that re-training the workforce to operate in the digital economy is an effective way to rescue workers from an unemployment tsunami.

Using AI technology to analyse big data on job postings has many benefits for making timely job policies. Firstly, it provides an accurate picture of job market demands with exact details because the company recruits reflect the business needs more precisely.

Secondly, it delivers multidimensional analyses. For example, it categorises the job postings by occupations, educational requirements, fields of education as well as the employers' industries and geographical locations. These types of information will help the government form job-related policies to meet real needs more effectively.

Thirdly, big data analysis brings to light the newly-emerging jobs that are in high demand. Regular job surveys cannot do this because the surveyors may not be aware of very new jobs such as robotic process automation (RPA) developers.

Lastly, it makes educational institutions more aware of the real job market needs so they can adjust their curriculum appropriately.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the country's job landscape was already going through rapid changes due to technological disruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the changes even more drastic.

To cope with the challenges, workforces, businesses and the education sector need up-to-date information for their next moves. The government must answer such needs.

With unemployment steadily on the rise, the government must act fast to keep millions of workers afloat in the country's worst economic crisis.

Policymakers can no longer depend on outdated data gathering methods to form policies. In a rapidly changing job landscape, big data analysis is now the way to go.

Winit Theanvanichpant is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

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