About 12 million Thais may lose their jobs to robots and "dehumanised smart systems" over the next 20 years, wiping out one-third of the 37 million positions in the workforce.
Administrative and office workers with basic skills are most at risk from the impact of "Industry 4.0" or the world's fourth industrial revolution, according to a joint study by the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF), Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU) and the World Bank (WB).
Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and 3D printing will take hold in all industries, said the study. However, demand for computer engineering and mathematics will dramatically increase.
Speaking at a forum titled "How Thai Education Should Prepare for Thailand 4.0" held by the QLF Tuesday, Kiatanan Luankeaw, DPU's Dean of the Faculty of Economics, said the fourth industrial revolution will transform the way people work.
Some jobs will disappear, others will grow, while jobs that do not exist today will become common.
"Ten years from now, 65% of today's school children will end up doing jobs that have not even been invented yet. The future workforce will need to align its skills to keep pace with the transition," he said.
Mr Kiatanan said complex-problem solving, critical thinking and creativity will become the top three priorities for skilled workers. With an avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, employees will have to be more creative to benefit from these changes.
However, the Thai education system gives cause for concern, as it is designed to produce workers for "Industry 2.0" which are based on mass production, while in reality some of the country's industries have already jumped to "Industry 3.0" which focuses on using IT and electronics in production.
"Our education system has created a workforce that does not match the jobs available in the long run. Students are not armed with the right skills to meet labour market demands. And now we are leaving Thailand 3.0 behind by launching Thailand 4.0. Where will the workers with skills for Industry 2.0 stand in Industry 4.0 era?" Mr Kiatanan said.
The government and Education Ministry need to manage the transition period and build a workforce with future-proof skills, or the country may have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, he said.
He said Industry 4.0 is already taking shape as many auto companies, including Toyota, are cutting their workforce. "The situation is telling us to be prepared," he added.
According to a WB report, Thai workers are two times and five times less productive than Malaysian and Singaporean workers respectively.
The report indicates the average output of Thai workers stood at $25,000 (879,200 baht) in 2014 compared to Malaysia's $50,000 and $122,000 for Singapore.
Another WB survey showed that 83.5% of the workforce in Thailand are unskilled.
Moreover, it also found that one-third of Thai students under 15 years of age do not reach the baseline level of proficiency in literacy which is lower than Vietnam and several counterparts in Asia.
WB's human development economist Dilaka Lathapipat said the education system needs drastic reform.
The business sector and government also have to invest in transforming their human resources if they want to keep up with the changes and avoid skills shortages and mass unemployment.
Investing in education, improving skills and retraining people would help boost the country's competitiveness and help ensure the workforce survives the new industrial revolution.
Citing an employment survey, a source at the National Statistical Office of Thailand said Thailand has about 55.57 million people of working age, of whom 36.81 million were employed in May.