I am seeing a gap in the marketplace between the capabilities of Thai engineers, and the requirements of international factories.
Factory owners are asking me to find a certain type of candidate, and it’s becoming harder to find them. A lot of HR managers tell me that certain skills are lacking in the domestic talent market.
The Thai educational system is not meeting the challenge of training our workforce for Industry 4.0.
Most Thai engineers who graduate with a bachelor’s degree have a strong theoretical and conceptual understanding: but no hands-on experience. They can’t operate welding machines, for example. This is different from engineers who are trained in the EU or USA, where they get more hands-on experience.
We need more effective internship programmes in Thailand. Engineers need more training in the environments where they will be expected to work. Businesses leaders are aware of the problem. They have tried reaching out to the government with their concerns, but the response is too slow.
SMEs feel neglected. They are at a competitive disadvantage. The biggest Thai companies can hire directly from the EU and USA for high-profile technical roles; or they use their own resources to invest in training high potential candidates who graduate at the top of their class. But SMEs cannot afford to carry a new hire until they grow into a key role. They must find the finished product, and often they cannot afford it.
The dominant Thai conglomerates don’t need to try very hard to attract talent. Engineering students with the highest GPAs get offers for jobs in their final year of university.
Many of these giant Thai companies find it easier to attract qualified engineers than multinationals: this is because they provide an easy, predictable path to financial security, and the ability to raise a family in Thailand without leaving your comfort zone.
In fact, multinationals are currently competing with the biggest Thai companies for the same small group of elite graduates. Because most multinationals are not as well-connected domestically, they usually need more help with recruitment. Only the very biggest foreign companies can attract talented engineering candidates as easily as the Thai conglomerates.
Thai engineers who have been highly trained or educated overseas with a master’s degree are highly prized. But they are a rare commodity, and for Thai SMEs they are out of reach.
Fortunate students with bachelor’s degrees from the elite Thai schools have these skills. But less privileged students who attend the more accessible, traditionally working-class universities, or technical schools, are getting left behind.
A lot more needs to be done to enable smaller companies to hire qualified, capable domestic Thai talent. Internships are a very important part of the solution.
Internships provide training, establish valuable connections between SMEs and talent, and enable graduates to learn about the business culture at companies where they may want to work in the future.
For a long-term, sustainable solution to Thailand’s talent gap, there needs to be more cooperation between government policymakers, business leaders, and HR executives.