Young workers need help
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Young workers need help

A disturbing new study on employment of young talent last week revealed how 15%, or 1.5 million Thai youth aged between 15-24, are classified as being NEETs -- an acronym for those "not in employment, education, or training."

The study, based on data from the National Statistical Office, shows the extent of the problem as the number of youths in the labour force has fallen from 4.8 million in 2011, to 3.7 million in 2021.

According to the report, led by Chulalongkorn University with help from Unicef, 70% of students who drop out have no plans for further education.

Some 70% of drop-outs are young women who quit to take care of their families or household chores. The country is seeing a rapid shrinkage of its labour force, and when this is coupled with a rapidly ageing population, this amounts to a worrying future trend for all.

Fewer young people entering the workforce has both economic and social ramifications. The economy will suffer.

When fewer workers are available, companies struggle to find staff to run their businesses or meet demand. Many foreign manufacturers have moved to neighbouring countries such as Vietnam or Cambodia where young workforces are aplenty and labour costs relatively lower.

The looming labour shortage is not limited to factories or farms. We've already heard of shortages in the hospitality industry as hotels have been unable to find enough locals to satisfy the demand post-Covid.

Labour market intelligence prepared by ManpowerGroup in 2019 already showed Thai businesses were struggling to find staff in roles for sales, information technology, engineering, business administration, accounting and manufacturing jobs. These roles are much harder to fill with foreigners, either due to language gaps, or a lack of competitiveness with places like Singapore where salaries are higher and draw foreign talent away. When businesses like these struggle to fill vacancies, it hinders growth and innovation.

So what's going on with the youth of our country? It needs to be mentioned that governments and the labour ministry have acknowledged such problems and in the past decade have spent much money on job training -- without any impressive outcomes.

For example, the attempt by central government initiated over a decade ago, to encourage teen workers to attend vocational collages, had to contend with the public bias against vocational institutions and a lack of financial help or incentives to both schools and students.

The biggest problem is the central government tends to develop a one-size-fits-all solution for job training. Under this policy, the government allocates money to various agencies to provide job training. Problems arise as the central government lacks an understanding of the problem.

Some NEET groups do not have any education while some lack specific skills; other teens may have knowledge but cannot find the right job market.

A few things the government could do right away is to provide financial help in the form of vouchers to attend vocational training programmes or vocation schools at the provincial or regional level. Because education and training are moving online, the government should create free and quality online training programmes and arrange job finding initiatives for young workers.

Another thing the government needs to do is offer financial incentives to companies to hire young job seekers.

Some youngsters are educated but simply are not interested in work. For this group, the government must find a different approach to help them realise their potential. A few options include offering incentives such as wage subsidies, improving working conditions by enforcing and improving labour laws and regulations, and providing counselling at schools, colleges, and standalone centres.

Of course, these changes can't happen overnight, and that's why the government made this issue one of its pillars for its 20-year national strategy (2018-2037).

It hoped to improve the quality of education to create a more skilled workforce. Some measures include increasing the number of scholarships, and improving access to schools in rural areas. While these measures are commendable, they are long-term solutions that will unlikely benefit the current generation of NEETs.

Many parties are pledging to create jobs and raise salaries or daily wages. Yet the solution requires more than doling out more money. NEETs reflect lost opportunities. Policy makers in the next government need to address these problems by revising laws, raising salaries and income and using tax measures to encourage businesses to hire young workers. Above all, the government must make labour laws fair, eliminate monopolies, and strive to make workplaces fair, inclusive and inspiring to work in.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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