Thailand’s economic prospects depend on its ability to build a world-class workforce. The Thai government has acknowledged this fact by making workforce development a core pillar of its Thailand 4.0 industry model. By building a world-class workforce capable of filling 21st century jobs involving innovation, technology and creativity, the vision of Thailand 4.0 is for Thailand to achieve developed country status and for all citizens to benefit from economic growth.
A 23 September 2019 article in the Bangkok Post titled “R&D spend growing in ‘leaps and bounds’” emphasized these points, and focused in particular on the thought leadership of Dr. Kitipong Promwong, Secretary General of the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI). Dr. Kitipong highlighted the significant investments the Thai government is making in Research and Development (R&D) in support of S-curve industries. This investment is timely, not only to promote industry growth but also to stimulate demand for skilled labor in Thailand.
The World Economic Forum cites that 65% of children entering school today will work in a completely new job type that does not yet exist. More immediately, the Thai government forecasts that over the next four years, the private sector in Thailand will need 107,000 more Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) graduates to meet industry demand. Indeed, the government is seeking STEM students to make up 50% of each graduating class in just over seven years’ time.
As such, the move to Thailand 4.0 poses significant challenges for the manufacturing workforce, not the least of which is the need to produce a new generation of STEM-savvy technicians. There is a global shortage of technicians with these skills, and Thailand can position itself advantageously by bolstering a new field of Industry 4.0 ready technicians who can drive manufacturing companies forward.
Luminaries like Dr. Kitipong are helping to build a STEM-to-industry ecosystem that will benefit not only economic growth but create stable, well-paying jobs for Thailand’s next generation. They understand that investment in education and R&D today leads to scientific discoveries tomorrow, spurring the new technologies and new jobs of the future.
For these government investments to bear fruit, however, Thailand must improve its education system in parallel with the growing R&D investments, particularly Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), so that students are entering the workforce with Industry 4.0-ready skills. Kenan Foundation Asia has been pleased to work closely with Dr. Kitipong in a number of capacities over the past six years to help improve STEM education in Thailand, including our work as the lead implementing partner of the Chevron Enjoy Science Project, a five-year, $30 million private-public partnership, where STI serves as a key partner.
To help bridge the gap between education and employability, we’ve collaborated with Dr. Kitipong to shape international best practice STEM curricula for Thai vocational schools and to develop a first-of-its-kind Industrial Robotics learning package, helping launch graduates into a world of work that is increasingly automated and digitized.
To ensure educational institutions can effectively use the new curriculum, work more effectively with the private sector, and are more responsive to labor market needs, Kenan Foundation Asia, in partnership with the Office of Vocational Education Commission, launched six TVET “Hubs” across Thailand, which work in concert with university partners to build manpower in six S-curve industries (food processing, automotive parts, energy, microelectronics, robotics, and light manufacturing).
Dr. Kitipong and STI wisely recognize the need for a three-pillar approach to R&D — leveraging government, private sector, and academia — to ensure that students can access the in-demand knowledge and 21st century skills, including critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, needed to make Thailand’s economy thrive.
For its part, Kenan Foundation Asia’s TVET work empowers Thai students with these skills, which are relevant to any career or role they take on and prepares TVET teachers to engage their students in hands-on, meaningful learning. External evaluations of these programs have demonstrated positive, statistically significant impacts on learning outcomes for these TVET students.
The government has made a clear signal of their priorities with Thailand 4.0. If this signature piece of economic development is to be successful, investments in R&D will need to be matched with an equally robust focus on STEM education.
By Dr. Ara Barsam, Chief of Party, Chevron Enjoy Science Project at Kenan Foundation Asia.