Productivity needs boost to save economy
Study says output must be doubled over the next 20 years
Thailand will have to increase its workforce productivity by at least 2 to 2.5 times over the next 20 years if it wants to maintain economic growth at the current level, according to a joint study conducted by Thammasat University and the Office of the Education Council.
Kiatanan Luankeaw, a lecturer at Thammasat University's Faculty of Economics and the director of the study, said the falling birth rate and technological disruption will transform the labour market in Thailand. The country's working-age population will decrease and many jobs will disappear or be taken over by robots and "dehumanised smart systems".
"In the future, we will have a smaller working-age population and people will have to change jobs at least three times over the course of their careers because an occupation will only last from 5 to 15 years before their jobs are replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)," Mr Kiatanan said. "Therefore, workers who can survive under that environment must be more productive and able to work with advanced technologies."
He said that according to his study, the suggested increase in productivity is necessary in order to maintain the Thai economy's current rate of growth.
"Complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity will become the top skills that workers will need as they might end up in jobs that have not even been invented yet. Our education system must be able to produce lifelong learners and job creators, not just graduates qualified for a specific job," he said.
Mr Kiatanan said schools and universities should also focus on upgrading the skills of the 35 million people who are already in the job market in addition to producing new graduates.
"In a rapidly changing technological world, there will be no age limit for studying at universities, as everyone will need to re-skill themselves many times over their careers," he said.
However, he is still concerned when looking at the Thai education system, as the current education system is designed to produce workers for "Industry 2.0'' which is based on mass production, and "Industry 3.0'' which focuses on using information technology (IT) and electronics to boost productivity.
"Our education system has created a workforce that has not matched the available jobs for a long time. Students are not armed with the right skills to meet the labour market's needs," he said.
Mr Kiatanan said his study found that only 14% of Thai workers now have the skills to work in the "4.0 era", in which advanced technologies such as AI, robotics and nanotechnology are applied in business settings.
He added that Thailand's education system needs drastic reforms. Businesses and the government have to invest in developing our human resources if they want to keep up with the changes and avoid a talent shortage or mass unemployment.
"If we fail to equip our students and workers with future-proof skills, Thailand will not be able to compete against other nations," Mr Kiatanan said. "Our economy will decline as foreign investors move away, and we won't be able to escape the middle income trap."