Thailand’s flagship industrial project will require a lift in educational standards if it is to attract the best firms worldwide to succeed. Minister has also revealed that bilingual teaching will begin in 2,000 district schools in 2020.  

Thailand’s Minister for Education has outlined a revamp of the country’s vocational education system as foreign firms indicate that a skilled workforce is a key critical requirement as they weigh up investment in the country’s Eastern Economic Corridor project which will represent a ฿1.5 trillion investment in the next 5 years.

Thailand’s Education Minister was appointed in July when the new government took office. This week, he has announced a revamp of the vocational education sector to serve the needs of Thailand flagship investment project, the Eastern Economic Corridor which needs to attract foreign firms in high technology growth sectors to the country’s eastern seaboard provinces of Chonburi, Rayong and Chachoengsao. The minister also unveiled plans for bilingual schooling in 2,000 district schools from 2020 as Thailand aims to improve English language proficiency.

Thailand’s Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan has outlined plans for a shakeup of the country’s vocational education sector.

This week he said that international investment country’s flagship industrial project, the Eastern Economic Corridor, may end up being stymied if the country could not produce more highly skilled graduates and better-educated workforce.

Ambitious industrial project centred on 3 provinces

The ambitious project approved the Thai parliament in early 2018 is centred on the province of Chonburi, Rayong and Chachoengsao.

A huge infrastructural investment scheme including high-speed rail links, development of deepwater port facilities and an international airport is now underway.

There has also been ongoing development of road infrastructure and industrial facilities with large tracts of land zoned for further use.

Minster has spoken to foreign ambassadors since July

The Minister revealed that he had spoken to ambassadors from countries around the world who had told him forthrightly that substantial investment from in their countries was dependent on finding a competitive workforce available to firms relocating to the area.

This is in spite of government incentive and the vast infrastructure being deployed.

Huge infrastructure investment and tax breaks for foreign firms locating within the EEC

The Eastern Economic Corridor represents a huge ฿1.5 trillion investment by the Thai government and private firms over the next 5 years developing the 3 key provinces as a connected area with shipping, train, road and airline access together with highly developed business facilities.

The government is also offering very generous, ongoing tax breaks to industries locating in the area.

Lack of skilled workers to support the plan

There have already been warnings from key executives associated with the project’s development that there is an acute lack of highly skilled labour in advanced technology that will be required to lure firms to establish in the area.

Human Resource boss bemoans focus on university education when tech industry offers higher pay

This year the Chairman of the Human Resource Centre of the project Mr Apichart Thongyou warned of the skills shortage to supply a projected need for 500,000 workers over the next five years.

At the time, he bemoaned the trend among Thai parents to advise teenagers to pursue a university education when more sustainable and profitable employment may well be found in the skilled technological centre.

In May, Mr Apichart highlighted the need for more vocational teaching and training within a workplace environment as the way forward for Thailand. 

Vocational Education Commission to undertake study

This week, the Thai education minister said that the Office of the Vocational Education Commission will now assess the needs of foreign business concerns considering investment in Thailand.

That office will then work to draw up a new education curriculum and newly designed training programmes to not only satisfy their needs but also to attain the highest international standards required as well as the numbers.

Focus on advanced technology sectors

The minister, who was appointed in July, said that there would be a focus on advanced technology sectors such as robotics, artificial intelligence and automation.

These were areas where young Thai graduates can confidently look forward to high salaries often well above salary levels attained by university-educated graduates.

The teaching of foreign languages

The minister also highlighted the need to improve the teaching of foreign languages in Thailand including English. He said that all vocational graduates for the new Eastern Economic Corridor will require at least one other language.

Thailand’s educational standards need to be looked at

A key concern for Thailand’s policymakers and the education establishment is understood to be the standards of education in Thailand compared to other countries, particularly western countries.

For decades, Thai emigrants with university-level education have complained that they have not been able to find equivalent employment in western countries as their degrees are not recognized in western countries such as the United States and Germany.

German firms are reported to be particularly interested in the Eastern Economic Corridor if the government can meet the challenge of providing a workforce trained to the right standard.

Civil Aviation Training President highlights the inability of Thai pilots to find work

On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Training Centre President Rear Admiral Piya Atmungkun warned that a planned new ‘City of Aviation’ project to be contained within the Eastern Economic Corridor will only exacerbate the problem with an oversupply of trained Thai airline pilots who cannot find work despite a reported world shortage of pilots.

Rear Admiral Piya – ‘our pilots find no jobs’

‘Even before the EEC officially opens, there is already a high number of aviation graduates,’ Rear Admiral Piya revealed. ‘But companies will not employ them if their qualifications are not certified according to international standards.’

The Thai airline industry leader said that right now in the world large airlines are competing with each other to offer jobs to suitable pilots. However, ‘our pilots find no jobs,’ he said.

He revealed that there were currently up to 700 trained Thai airline pilots who cannot find work in spite of the industry shortage

Thailand’s vocational education sector to match international standards for incoming industry

The Minister this week pledged to make Thailand’s vocational educationals standards compatible with international standards.

He argued that success in this area would also encourage more Thai students to follow this kind of career path.

Demographic problem is also a limiting factor

 This would help address the shortfall of skilled workers for the Eastern Economic Corridor projects. The leadership of the project suggests that 60% of the 500,000 jobs can be found from existing labour working in other industries. 

They have even suggested recruiting older workers as Thailand demographic problem is also now a limiting factor.

Opportunity for less well of Thai students to break into the middle class with high paying jobs

The remaining 40% or 200,000 workers need to be skilled graduates.

In May, Mr Apichart Thongyoun of the EEC’s Human Resource Centre highlighted that this could be an attractive opportunity for hundreds of thousands of less well off Thai students to engineer their way into the middle-class with high paying jobs and valuable working skills. 

Addressing Thailand deteriorating position in English proficiency is rising a priority for the minister

This week, the education minister also addressed another emerging problem. Thailand’s English literacy and proficiency dropped from for the third year in a row in a recent international survey coming in at 74th place out of 100 countries in the 2019 survey.

The country languished near the bottom of the tables worldwide and even within Southeast Asia and Asia itself. Countries such as Singapore and the Philippines led the way.

English is the language of business and growing into the language of the world.

Bilingual teaching at district schools in 2020

To address this, Minster Nataphol is starting at the bottom. He announced this week that 2,000 district schools in Thailand would commence bilingual English Thai lessons in early 2020. He pointed out that the budget for this had already been secured through to 2021.

The minister said he plans to have all Thai teachers teaching the language able to speak English capably within two years with a 5-year target for students.

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