UPGRADING VOCATIONAL education will be the key to boosting the country’s competitiveness and helping it step out of the middle-income trap, the Future Innovative Thailand Institute (FIT) has advised.
To implement the upgrade, the FIT called on the government to provide wage support to vocational students during their internship – which will last about six months per academic year – and introduce several other supportive measures.
“The support should be equivalent to between 50 and 70 per cent of the minimum wage,” the FIT said in its proposal. Established in 2013, the FIT is a non-governmental organisation focusing on identifying the country’s problems and proposing practical solutions.
“Today, Thailand does not have a comparative advantage from a large number of unskilled and a cheap labour force for labour-intensive industries. That advantage existed in the 1980s, not today,” FIT chairman Pisit Leeahtam said recently.
The minimum daily wage currently ranges from Bt308 to Bt330 in Thailand, sharply up from three decades ago, when it was under Bt100.
Even more worrying, Pisit said, is the fact that the number of medium-skilled to highly skilled workers in Thailand is also relatively small, leaving the country unable to upgrade its industry to “technology-intensive” or “capital-intensive” levels.
“It’s necessary that we urgently invest more in vocational education in order to increase the number of skilled labourers, especially engineers and technicians, and upgrade the industrial sector to higher technology level,” Pisit said.
He expected the move to generate higher productivity or higher value, and help Thailand emerge from the middle-income trap.
Thailand has been a middle-income country for several decades already.
According to the FIT, while Thailand’s per capita national income in 2017 was about Bt16,300 per month, a survey showed that 74.84 per cent of Thais earned less than Bt15,000. Such figures were a reflection that most people working Thais have few skills and earn less than the average, Pisit said.
The FIT presented its proposals at a recent forum in a bid to draw the attention of academics, politicians and representatives from various organisations to vocational education.
Onstage were Dr Tharadol Piempongsant, the FIT’s director of the Public Policy Department, and FIT Policy Analyst Wipattra Totemchokchaikarn.
They said the government should support free education for vocational certification at both government and private vocational institutes, in technical, commercial and other fields, with budgetary support meeting international standards.
They pointed out that, without adequate funding, vocational institutions would continue to lack modern equipment to properly train their students.
They also recommended that the government establish an internship centre as a hub for the private sector, academic institutes and students, with vocational curriculum offering three months of theoretical courses and three months of internship, switching back and forth.
The FIT also suggested that the government arrange free vocational training for interested people so they could improve their skills and learn new skills.
“The free training could be provided via one million coupons for training, each worth Bt3,500,” it said.
If possible, the government should engage the private sector more in vocational education and skills-training management, the FIT added.
The FIT hoped that in the future, the ratio of vocational students to general-education students would be 1:1.
It added that the salaries of people with vocational certificates should also be almost on par with those holding bachelors’ degrees.