Thailand’s new talent centre is timely but education reform needed

As one of Southeast Asia’s “tiger cub” economies, Thailand has seen tremendous growth in the past three decades. Driven by its export-focused growth strategy, particularly in automobiles, Thailand’s GDP has expanded over 12-fold from $32.4bn in 1980 to $406.8bn in 2016.

However, like most ASEAN countries, much of this growth has been driven by foreign direct investments by global companies. While this has helped to build up local talent and expertise, there’s a need for ASEAN countries to start their own innovation engines, particularly in Thailand whose economy has suffered from political instability in recent years.

Which is why the launch of Thailand’s Strategic Talent Centre (STC) by the country’s Board of Investment (BOI) and five other government agencies this week is timely.

The STC will identify Thais and foreigners with specialised skills in science and technology in academia and government, as well as those under the Talent Mobility Project of the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office.

Essentially a platform for Thailand’s private sector to access skilled manpower in science and technology, the STC is part of efforts by the Thai government to build the country’s R&D capabilities under its “Thailand 4.0” policy that aims to create an innovation-driven economy.

Hirunya Suchinai, secretary general of the BOI, said: “We believe that there are many experts and specialists in Thailand but we never had a comprehensive database or information about them. The STC will take up this role and pull together extensive lists of these experts. This will not only match demand on manpower and supply of expertise, but will also promote links between the research sector and the private sector”.

In addition to matching services, the STC will also coordinate with government agencies to validate and recognise experts in science and technology. Foreign experts will also get access to an e-expert system run by a one-stop centre for visas and work permits.

While the STC may meet the short to medium-term needs of organisations looking for R&D talent, Thailand needs to beef up its education system and improve educational outcomes in the longer term as it transforms into a knowledge-based economy.

While school participation rates are high, the performance of Thailand in OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) falls behind that of peer countries.

In PISA 2012, for example, only 2.6% of Thai students were considered high achievers in mathematics and 1% in science. Making matters worse are the huge disparities in student performance between the well-off and socio-economically disadvantaged.

These problems cannot be resolved overnight. It takes not only political will on the part of the government, but also support and collaboration with educators and the science and technology industry to ensure that Thailand has enough local talent to realise its Thailand 4.0 vision.