To survive the rapid digital transformation, the government must act fast to upskill and reskill the workforce while education institutions must equip students with new in-demand skills to grow in the post-Covid digital economy.
“The pandemic has speeded up digital transformation with a drastic impact on job and market demands. If Thailand cannot adapt in time, people will lose jobs and the Thai economy will be left behind in the competitive global arena,” warned Dr Saowaruj Rattanakhumfu at the recent 2021 Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) Annual Conference.
Dr Saowaruj Rattanakhumfu is the Research Director of TDRI’s Innovation Policy for Sustainable Development.
In her talk “New Work Opportunities and Skills for the New Era,” Dr Saowaruj outlines the in-demand job opportunities and skills for the post-Covid economy and what the government and education institutions must do to equip the workforce with those skills.
The digital transformation is occurring amid an ageing society and the climate crisis, leading to rapid growth in the digital, care, and green economies, she said.
“This change in the economic structure means many jobs will be obsolete while the new economies need people with different skills. This change will happen to different fields from top to bottom,”Dr Saowaruj Rattanakhumfu
Car mechanics, for example, will find it hard to survive in the new economy if they do not have the digital skills to work with electric cars.
The high-paying jobs in the digital economy are, for example, AI specialists, data scientists, data engineers, big data developers, and cyber security specialists. But apart from advanced IT skills, these jobs also demand good English, analytical skills, and resilience.
For the care economy, the jobs that are in high demand include behavioural health technicians, physical therapist aides, radiation therapists, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, recreational workers, and personal care aides. Apart from technical skills and high-standard services, the jobs with higher compensation require good health, good English, communication and people skills as well as resilience.
For the green economy, jobs with high-compensation prospects include specialists in renewable energy, biofuel, green marketing, and sustainability. In addition to expertise in environmental science, knowledge in building materials, law, IT, English, analytical and communication skills will contribute to their higher compensation.
Although the new economies require specific technical skills, soft skills are still very essential, she pointed out.
According to TDRI interviews with business operators, they also look for people who are creative, team-oriented, resilient, professional and have good people and communication skills. Thai employers, in particular, also look for people with good English.
Unfortunately, the Thai workforce and the Thai educational institutions are not prepared for the change in the job markets, said Dr Saowaruj.
According to a WEF/SEA survey with 56,000 young people aged 15-35, 30% of Thai youths believe their work skills are for life while it is only 10% in Singapore and Vietnam.
Moreover, 60% of Thai youths say they cannot improve on their intelligence and abilities have reached maximum limits.
“This is worrying because they are not prepared for the rapid changes in the job markets,” she said.
Such beliefs may explain why about 1.4 million Thai youths in the 15-24 groups are not in school, in training, and not in the job market. Poverty and lack of educational opportunities may be closely linked to poverty, she added.
But even for the youths who are already in the education system, they will not have good job prospects if they do not have other skills outside their fields.
According to a WEF (2020) survey with corporations around the world, among the top 10 qualities they are looking for are problem-solving skills, analytical mind, resilience, leadership in teamwork, IT-savviness, and knowledge in computer programming.
The top executives place a high value on analytical and innovative thinking and resilience, she added.
A TDRI big data analysis of more than 500,000 online job advertisements also reveals that, apart from specific professional expertise, the skills the employers need more than ever after the pandemic lockdowns are English, digital know-how, and critical thinking. These skills are required in all kinds of professions.
A comparison between two Rajabhat Universities shows that the graduates from the one that teaches digital skills and advanced English with close cooperation with the business sector can get jobs more easily and with higher salaries.
The educational institutions, therefore, must equip their students with the necessary skills to be competitive in the job markets, she stressed.
The problem is most Thai universities are subsidised by the government, which makes them unresponsive to job market demands and students’ needs.
As a result, many with bachelors’ degrees become full-time riders to earn more money during the pandemic.
Private colleges and universities, however, adapt much quicker to change because they cannot rely on state money. The Nursing College at the Vongchavalitkul University, for example, is highly successful because all nursing students get high-paid jobs for their strong qualifications. Yet, the college cannot receive more students due to outdated rules.
Dr Saowaruj urged education institutions to show accountability and learn from their counterparts in other countries how to better equip the students.
Experiences from many countries around the world have shown that work-integrated learning (WiL) through close collaboration with the business sector highly enhances the students’ job prospects, she pointed out.
Generation, for example, offers intensive short-term training with collaboration with the business to meet their needs. As a result, nearly all students get jobs after the training.
At Perdue, meanwhile, the students do not have to pay the university until they have a job and they can pay in instalments for 10 years. “This arrangement means that the university must make sure that their students must be highly qualified for the job market,” she said.
The Lambda School takes it up a notch. If the students do not make over $50,000 a year, they do not have to pay back any tuition fees. If they do, they will have to give 17% of their income to Lambda for two years.
“They shoulder the responsibility of ensuring jobs for their students,” she explained. “This is accountability.”
In Thailand, TechUp, following the Lambda School’s model, offers short-term online courses providing the skills that are in high demand. If the students cannot get a job with at least 20,000 baht per month, they do not have to pay for the course.
Likewise, the government must learn from other countries how to upskill and reskill the workforce for digital transformation.
Singapore, for example, gives money directly to its citizens to upskill and reskill by choosing their training institutions themselves. This scheme forces training institutions to attract the students by making their programs meet job demands.
Great Britain also has a Lifetime Skill Guarantee policy for its citizens at different age groups to get free occupational training which includes digital marketing, software development, and green skills.
Not to leave the Thai workforce behind, the Thai government should do the following:
Give the citizens free coupons to learn new job skills with professional training centres;Make educational institutions and training centres show accountability to their students by revealing their performance on the graduates’ job placement so students can decide where best to study to get good jobs;Eliminate outdated rules that limit the number of professions that are in high demands such as nurses and care assistants;Increase Internet access in remote areas so disadvantaged students can get new job skills and more job opportunities too.
While the upskill and reskill programmes should better respond to the growing digital, care, and green sectors, the government should also pay attention to people at the bottom rung in those sectors.
“Not all jobs in the digital, care, and green economies are well paid,” said Dr Saowaruj. “Riders, for example, are lowly paid and dangerous with no work security and welfare. The “saleng” or garbage collectors also face a tough situation despite their crucial role in waste sorting and recycling.”
The government’s challenge is not only helping the workforce get new skills in the rapidly changing job markets, it must also improve the welfare and social security system for informal workers because they are also the backbone of the Thai economy, she concluded.