Thailand's green economy challenge
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Thailand's green economy challenge

Ekachai Rattanasith, a local innovator, rides a tricycle with a solar panel and battery installed in this Aug 17, 2016 photo. (Photo: Krit Promsaka na Sakolnakorn)
Ekachai Rattanasith, a local innovator, rides a tricycle with a solar panel and battery installed in this Aug 17, 2016 photo. (Photo: Krit Promsaka na Sakolnakorn)

Climate concerns are reshaping the job market across the globe, leading to a rise in "green" jobs tailored for low-carbon economies. Success now hinges on adaptability to this new job landscape.

Thailand needs to act swiftly. As a country deeply woven into the global supply chain and reliant on exports and foreign investment, failing to meet the demand for greener practices risks leaving the country behind in the global shift to a low-carbon economy.

The imperative to reduce carbon emissions fuels growth in green industries and jobs globally. The most successful individuals and countries will be those quickest to meet the demands of low-carbon jobs.

Among the fast-growing green industries are waste management and recycling, renewable energy, energy-efficient home and building construction, the reduction of industrial carbon emissions and greenhouse gas, electric vehicle manufacturing, and green finance management. These burgeoning sectors demand new skills, offering rewarding opportunities for those who can meet the evolving requirements.

In contrast, environmentally damaging "brown" industries that emit high levels of carbon and greenhouse gases are facing decline, causing job losses.

The extraction of fossil fuels, the manufacture of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, and unsustainable farming, which heavily uses farm chemicals and consumes an excessive amount of natural resources, are some of these environmentally damaging industries.

The green economy, while offering opportunities for those with necessary skills, disproportionately affects the low-skilled. Thailand, with at least eight million low-skilled workers in brown industries, faces the dual challenge of producing high-skilled green workers for a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy and retraining the low-skilled for the shift to green jobs.

The potential for career advancement is huge in rapidly growing green businesses.

A global study by LinkedIn, the world's largest professional database and networking platform, indicates an 8% annual growth in green jobs from 2016 to 2021, outpacing the overall growth rate of green workers at 6% per year. The difference signifies a robust demand for high-skilled workers in the green sector.

For job seekers, knowing which green jobs offer short-term or mid-term growth is valuable. According to LinkedIn, positions in renewable energy, such as wind turbine technicians and solar energy experts, experience short-term high growth. Meanwhile, green jobs with mid-term growth are found in sustainability fields, like business sustainability managers and environmental scientists.

Despite high global demand, Thailand's green job growth remains modest, increasing by 1.4% annually from 2011 to 2021, based on data from the Labor Force Survey. Green jobs' share of total employment only rose from 6% to 7% in the past decade. If this resistance to change persists, Thailand will undoubtedly struggle to keep pace with other countries in the global transition to a low-carbon economy.

Furthermore, green jobs in Thailand are concentrated in industries that produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases, such as waste management, mining, energy, and construction. Notably, many of these jobs, like waste collection, are labour-intensive with low wages.

Meanwhile, jobs requiring higher professional skills, like environmental engineering and renewable energy technicians, remain in short supply. Therefore, those who meet the high demands enjoy substantial financial rewards.

Income-wise, green jobs pay between 26-50% more than other jobs for people with a diploma or above. Their income rises further for those with knowledge and expertise in the Stem fields -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A median salary analysis of recent graduates from 2020 to 2022, based on data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation, revealed that Stem professionals, such as computer analysts, made the highest salaries (20,000 baht per month). Stem green jobs, such as environmental engineers, pay 19,000 baht per month, while non-Stem green jobs, such as farm managers, pay 17,000 baht per month. The monthly average for other non-green jobs was about 15,000 baht.

An analysis by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) of nearly a million job postings from 2022 to mid-2023 found that about 7% (almost 70,000 positions) were green jobs. Major job-seeking websites from September to mid-October 2022 also showed strong demand for green skills like sustainability management, sustainable engineering, sustainability reporting, and sustainability risk management. The energy sector, especially, seeks specific green skills like designing solar energy systems, carbon footprint management, and energy modelling.

In other words, there are abundant green jobs with high pay for those with the necessary skills for a low-carbon job market.

Despite this high demand, Thailand lacks a sufficient number of qualified workers for well-paying green jobs. To address this issue, the government must invest in education and training programmes to equip the workforce with the right attitude, necessary skills, and knowledge required for the growing green job market.

Thriving in green jobs necessitates the right attitude of genuine concern for the environment and sustainability, along with essential skills like adaptability, creativity, communication, and design thinking. Additionally, knowledge encompassing technical expertise in engineering, science, operation management, and project monitoring is crucial.

Critical additional training is required for green skills like environmental and sustainability management, energy efficiency, resource recycling, carbon reduction-related skills, green infrastructure and transportation skills, and financial skills for sustainability.

Transitioning to a green economy in Thailand will be difficult if crucial green technology skills, especially those related to Stem, are not improved. Without this essential economic boost for the future, job growth will be slower, and many workers could end up jobless or with low incomes.

To survive in the new economic landscape, therefore, the government should expedite the following policies.

Firstly, develop the workforce in line with low-carbon economic policies by creating platforms for collaboration between the public and private sectors and fostering integrated efforts across ministries to achieve unity.

Secondly, set up an information system to identify what skills are needed in the job market using big data to improve the workforce every year. This means working closely with the private sector and educational institutions to focus on developing the right skills and creating courses that match what the job market will need. It is also vital to study the characteristics and skills that need boosting for workers who may face layoffs.

Thirdly, strengthen Stem skills by training Stem teachers to possess genuine knowledge and understanding and enabling them to inspire students. Adapt their teaching methods to be interdisciplinary, emphasising practical problem-solving.

Finally, offer workforce skills training using different methods for different target groups.

First, support employers in training their workers for green skills by subsidising costs and offering tax incentives. Second, support training for informal workers with skill training vouchers, along with consultation and job matching services. Third, assist at-risk workers in transitioning from "brown" businesses to green jobs, providing job matching services, tuition support, and partial salary support for new employers.

Thailand stands at a crucial economic crossroads. To thrive in a new global job landscape, Thailand needs to adapt to the demands of a low-carbon economy, foster critical green skills, and retrain the workforce.

Embrace change. Look ahead. Reskill the workforce. Adapt or lag. To secure the country's economic future, Thailand has no other choice.

Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu, PhD, is Research Director Innovation Policy for Sustainable Development, Thailand Development Research Institute. The article is her edited speech -- 'Upskilling Thai Workforce in Low-Carbon Era' at the TDRI Annual Conference on 'Thailand's Transition to Low-Carbon Economy' on Oct 31, 2023.

Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu

Research Director for Innovation Policy for Sustainable Development

Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu, PhD, is Research Director for Innovation Policy for Sustainable Development at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

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