Thailand’s Labour Shortages

While back on June 2005, The Nation had published article on Thailand’s Labour Shortages. Here is an exert from it. You can read the full article by clicking on THINK-TANK SPEECH: Labour shortages need fixing: PM

Prime Minister Thak-sin Shinawatra yesterday said Thailand might need to import talent such as medical doctors or software engineers to help increase the country’s competitiveness. Speaking at the annual meeting of the National Economic and Social Development Board NESDB, Thaksin said Thailand was facing two critical issues over the next five years – poverty reduction and economic restructuring.

To restructure the economy, the country needs to find a solution to its labour shortage, particularly for medical doctors and software engineers, Thaksin said.
“We have produced doctors for the United States, but we do not use foreign doctors. We require foreign doctors to pass a test in the Thai language if they want to work here. Why do we need to protect this career?” Thaksin asked a gathering of 2,000 people representing state officials, academics, business and civil groups.

He pointed to India, where universities are churning out herds of scientists and some 300,000 software engineers a year. Thailand cannot match this output.
Beggars and unskilled labourers from neighbouring countries freely enter the country, but rich people and highly-skilled labourers face several barriers to entering the Kingdom for work, Thaksin said. Thai authorities should remove all complicated rules and regulations that prevent the free flow of qualified people to work and live in the country.

He called on private companies to restructure operations in order to prepare for fierce competition as a result of trade liberalisation. The government bailed out private debtors and restructured their debt after the 1997 financial crisis and is not in a position to make any more bailouts, he said.
“Everyone has to leave their personal agendas behind. If we do not change today how can we survive in the next 10 years?” Thaksin asked rhetorically”

– Wichit Chaitrong, The Nation

I totally disagree with the PM’s ideas to solve Thailand’s labour shortage problem, particularly for medical doctors and software engineers. Thailand will eventually produce these individuals as near future. Sometime, I think that Dr. Thaksin tries to solve the problem too quickly to impress himself and his own political alliances.

Thailand has so much to offer to the world in our own way. Importing the best foreign individual from around the world is not the best way to proceed. First, they are not cheap labor to begin with. Second, they take away the job from local people. For Thailand to be competitive and sustainable in the future, we need to produce the home grow medical doctors and software engineers by ourselves. Thais are capable to perform this type of service.

We can do this by using our own Thai scholars, who have or currently have been living aboard to come home to train our own Thai individual in those fields. They have the right knowledge to do it due to experience and training from abroad. I do believe that Thailand has the right infrastructures and facilities to do this. All we need are these individuals to step-up to the place. Although, Thai might argue that they might not make the best money in his/her native land, so they need to export themselves to the foreign market. But sometime, Thais need to import themselves for the better of her country. Thais need to remember were they are come from. This would be the best trade off for the country.

No matter what countries you work in the world, individual need to know the local language in order to be successful in what you. When Thais go to the foreign land, they required to learn the foreign land local language. So when the foreigners want to do business in Thailand, we expect them to do to the same. Remove the language requirement for foreign to do business in Thailand would be a wrong idea.

14 responses to “Thailand’s Labour Shortages

  1. Menthalyptus Magoo

    This is the type of xenophobic fear of the outside world attitude that is common in the west as well (Them foreigners are takin’ jobs away from me family!)

    If there were Thai nationals to fill these jobs, the government would happily seal the borders of the country from entry of foreign workers and everybody could sleep easy at night without having to worry about the effects of the ‘foreign menace’ and its ability to make people forget where they came from and degrade Thai culture.

    Obviously there aren’t enough qualified Thai nationals to fill these jobs and for the knowledge base to be improved in the future, the government needs to open up its doors to foreigners.

    Oh and how do you plan on getting Thai nationals who have left the country to return? Aside from economic motivations, many intellectuals would likely find the current environment restrictive and might think twice about returning to the country to try to support some jingoistic immigration policy.

  2. First, they are not cheap labor to begin with

    Well, no, after all highly skilled labour is not cheap pretty much by definition. That’s besides the point really, if they’re providing a service that would otherwise be lacking.

    Second, they take away the job from local people.

    How they can be taking away jobs from Thais if there’s currently a shortage of qualified Thai candidates ? Sounds like any qualified Thai could have the pick of the jobs they want, there’s just not enough of them.

    We can do this by using our own Thai scholars, who have or currently have been living aboard to come home to train our own Thai individual in those fields. They have the right knowledge to do it due to experience and training from abroad. I do believe that Thailand has the right infrastructures and facilities to do this. All we need are these individuals to step-up to the place. Although, Thai might argue that they might not make the best money in his/her native land, so they need to export themselves to the foreign market. But sometime, Thais need to import themselves for the better of her country. Thais need to remember were they are come from. This would be the best trade off for the country.

    Isn’t there a contradiction here ? It’s saying “Thais don’t need foreign doctors, we can do it ourselves (but only by using foreign knowledge and training)”. It seems a pretty insular attitude to me, healthcare systems in the UK, US etc… all recognise, appreciate and depend upon the skill of foreign medical staff. Especially with medical staff, the number and range of specialites is so vast I don’t see how it’s possible one country could do it all itself.

    And aside from anything else, inciting a mass migration back to Thailand of overseas staff on a purely patriotic basis, persuading them to spend their time training new students, and then persuading those students to stay in the current would be a long term plan – it doesn’t really help at all with shortages today, as would loosening visa restrictions.

    No matter what countries you work in the world, individual need to know the local language in order to be successful in what you. When Thais go to the foreign land, they required to learn the foreign land local language. So when the foreigners want to do business in Thailand, we expect them to do to the same. Remove the language requirement for foreign to do business in Thailand would be a wrong idea.

    I don’t know, in general I’d agree but with doctors and the like I’m not sure it’s necessary provided they can communicate sufficently with medical staff and patient (in Thai or English), even with an interpreter if necessary. I know I’d rather my brain surgeon spent his/her time keeping up-to-date with the latest medical techniques than perfecting their knowledge of the tone rules. But really, the way you present your argument makes it seem like you’re using the language requirement as an excuse for the real reason of ‘not wanting foreigners taking Thai jobs’.

  3. I must humbly disagree. If you look at America, you can see that it became so strong because of it’s open immigration policies. In the past, it accepted people from just about everywhere. In short, America became a microcosm of the world, having the best of all cultures…this led to a social and intelectual environment that led to the amazing innovations that America is now famous for.

    Likewise, Thailand in the past was know for its openness to a multicultural society. From Punjabi mercenaries, to Tamil merchants, to Persian court advisors, and even Greek religious officials…Thailand welcomed all to work and participate in its society.

    It was only in the late 1930’s, when Ol’ Field Marshal P. decided to conciously restructure Thailand to conform to the Fascist Nationalism that was all the rage in Europe, at the time. The odious concept of Thai “Chaart” only made its first apperance during P’s stewardship of the country. Look at what P’s quasi-Facism got Thailand; subservience to Japan, and years of military dictatorship.

    I challenge you to re-examine the nationalist views you have been brought up with, and hopefully rediscover the virtues of openness and flexibility that made Thailand strong in the past.

    As Thailand enters the world economy, it’s people will have to realize that they are world citizens…and if they want to do business with the world, the world will eventually come and visit.

  4. You don’t want to end up like Australia, a multicultural nightmare, destroying what was once a peaceful culture.

  5. Barney Malone

    Well put by both Pompenkroo and mike. However I was a bit confused by paul_au.

    “You don’t want to end up like Australia, a multicultural nightmare, destroying what was once a peaceful culture.”

    Is this the same Australia that everyone knows? What essentially got its start at its penal colony once had a peaceful culture before multiculturalism? I assume that the culture you were referring to was not that of the aboriginees.

    Thailand’s FTA with Australia is now in effect and no doubt many Thais will be going to Australia in the coming few years. Little do they know that they’ll be helping to shatter the peaceful culture of the noble Australians.

  6. I think you are right, also a good thing would be to limit the siphoning out of the philomath population. Something along the lines of at least 10 yrs domestic work or teaching experience or something. But that would also mean higher salaries for those individuals so their hard work at school is paid off.

  7. one more thing I forgot to add. A somewhat similar issue is facing countries in Africa, as a response UK wants to lessen the import of their brain power (approx 1/3 are invited)
    here is the article

  8. “Something along the lines of at least 10 yrs domestic work or teaching experience or something.”

    Why not erode civil liberties a little further and force professionals to stay their entire lives in the country! This is not the way to deal with a skills shortage in a country.

    I can’t believe it, but I am in full agreement with Khun Thaksin and the plan he outlined in that Nation article!

  9. In India, most of the software engineers & other people gone abroad would not give a damn to the country untill the domestic market began to grow and investments started. Today, because the Indian market is growing they all swear allegiance to the country!!! Else, most of them were just frustrated with local bureaucracy and lack of enterpeneur space. I think a balanced and careful approach would be called for such issues? Where lack of resources (labour?) is not allowed to hamper short-term growth, but still the country has enough space & good plan to aggresively increase the number of Thais entering the field in the mid-term/long-term?

  10. I think Mike and Pompenkroo are pretty much spot-on, but I’ll add my own two cents on the unaddressed issues.

    Maitree, can you substantiate your point that “Thailand will eventually produce these individuals as near future? Is there any reason to be so certain about that? What we doknow about the situation right now for certain is that there is a labor shortage in the high-skill areas, right now. This problem didn’t just develop yesterday, and if the status quo in Thailand failed to solve the problem until now, why would it be successful in the future?

    Based on my experience as an American-graduated medical researcher in Thailand, I agree with PM Thaksin: this isolative foreign labor policy needs to be reformed, the sooner the better. Thailandb needs to start its own “brain-drain” program, if you will.

    When Thais go to the foreign land, they required to learn the foreign land local language.

    This is not entirely correct. A foreigner performing professional work in my European home country, for example, has to be proficient in German or English – in the languages that are also required for locals of the same profession. There is no discrimination, and Thai foreign workers do not need to learn the local language.

    Finally, you seem to be implying blame on your fellow nationals who chose to do remain and work outside Thailand’s borders after finishing their education. I don’t see anything wrong with that, since the government didn’t give any incentives for them to come back, and patriotism alone is not a sufficient reason, as others have pointed it out already.

  11. Thank you for all comments on this post. I enjoy reading your comments. I should made my arguement clear in the begin.

    All, I am saying here is to encourage native Thais to return home and help provide the serivce in in these field. If they do not chose to come back home, that’s their personal choice. Of course for Thais to return, the government must provide better incentives and better work enviroment that currently present.

    Import a massive amount of foriegn
    worker is not the best way either. We need to find a balance between Thai and foreign workers. Goralization has down side too. Not everything about globalization provide the postive results. I used to believe that globalization is the best thing in whole world. As I get older, my thinking change through my acquiration of more knowledge.

    For the language requirement, the article did not make it clear on what types of langage requirement. From my argument standpoints, is that foriegn must be able to communicate with Thai patients and doctors that have no knowledge of English language.

    For all Thai nationals, Sorry, if I ofend anyone with my ideas. And as wells to the current foreign who current work and live in Thaialnd. In the future post, I will try to defend my idea better.

    Thank you again for reading.

  12. Anyway, even if a few of our readers didn’t quite agree with what you said, well-done for ‘having a go’ as most of the country’s nationals just sit back and agree with everything the govt and PM state without trying to think up an opinion of themselves.

    As for the language thing, i do get tired of foreigners who spend years Thailand neverlearn a simple sentence of the language. In this case the Thais are wonderfully tolerant to outsiders.

    In my home country,a lot of the locals feel very bitter about Asians going to live there and never try to speak English.

    East meets West is so 50-50. So much give and take.

  13. Re labor shortage and the level of education in Thailand

    Two issues – Import professionals or out source the work to India and other country’s.

    America has lost over 1.5 x 10 to the 6th power industrial jobs to China and Mexico, etc.

    Our students in America are not entering the engineering field due to out sourcing.

    Suggest Thailand ensure that their businesses stay at home (don’t gove them incentives to offshore) and hire the professionals that they need.

    Thailand needs to create a middle class in order to have a better quality of life. This will take some time of course – maybe 30 to 40 years. They are the engine that drives our economy.

    It took us over 200 years to get the middle class. But it started in ernest after the WWII.

  14. While I do not think that Thailand should try to import large numbers of foreign highly skilled/educated workers, it would seem to make sense to open up such fields to foreign workers who are willing to work and live in Thailand. I do not recall all the occupations on the list, but as a Civil Engineer, I do recall that my profession is limited to only Thais in Thailand.
    If these restrictions were eliminated, along with most of the current visa hassles, I would be able to work as an engineer in Thailand if I were willing to accept a competitive Thai salary and learn the language, legalities, etc., of my profession as practiced in Thailand. I suspect that in general there would be very few people willing to do this, but the few who would, would be a great asset to Thailand.
    Likewise with doctors and other professionals. The USA has been able to attract many such professionals from around the world, because most people see America as a great place to work and get ahead. Until Thailand develops a similar reputation [and people all over the world start studying Thai, as they now do English], I don’t think that Thailand is going to be swamped by professional immigrants. Actually, opening up the professions to foreigners would probably raise the salary scale for Thais as well, which would be a strong incentive for more Thais to study and fill these positions.