Competence Development in the Electronics Industry in Thailand

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The electronics industry in Thailand is vital for economic growth and sustainability because it ranks highly in its contribution to the country's Gross Domestic Product and to its exports. In fact, the Thai government has adopted a policy to make Thailand the electronics capital of Asia (Office of Industrial Economics 2010). According to the Danish Trade Council, Royal Danish Embassy, Bangkok (2006):

   More than 370,000 people are employed in the industry. Foreign
   brands and manufacturers currently dominate this large and
   fast-growing sector. Multinational companies, mainly from Japan,
   USA, Netherlands and Taiwan, generally establish their production,
   testing and assembling facilities in Thailand. The government is
   committed to further developing this industry and consequently, the
   Board of Investment (BOI) has taken steps to ensure that the
   investment climate remains favourable and offers attractive
   incentives to foreign companies interested in setting up operations
   in Thailand. (p. 2)

However, the industry is both labour intensive and fast growing (Rasiah 2003), which intensifies the need for skill development. It is the most important consumer of skilled labour (Zeufack 1998). Additionally, the shorter product life cycles in the industry (Loch, Stein & Terwiesch 1996) mean that workers' skills must be often upgraded. Market pressures, the growth and impact of international standards, as well as quality assurance systems create a need for competent workers and for a shift from "... labour intensive production with low-skill workers towards value-added production based on higher-level technical skills in the workforce and qualified managerial expertise." (Wongboonsin & Rojvithee 2006: 43).

Compounding the problem is the fact that the demand for skilled workers in Thailand is not proportional to the supply. Economic growth in the last two decades has resulted in increased employment opportunities which, in turn, resulted in few workers seeking work abroad and a decreased incentive for skill development (Pozorski 2008). The supply of highly skilled workers such as engineers also presents challenges in Thailand. Mitarai (2005), comparing China with Thailand, observed that, although the former has access to a supply of inexpensive and qualified engineers, such is not the case in Thailand, where they are hard to find and expensive to hire.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that, as Zeufack (1998: 4) observed, the country's achievements in education "... lag far behind that of other Newly Industrialized Countries." Chisholm and Fennes (2006) noted from a summary of a UNESCO report on education in Thailand that only just over half of those aged 35-44 years old have some form of primary education, four per cent of 25-64 year olds have no formal education, 25 per cent of 45-54 year olds and 16 per cent of 55-64 have only primary education. Vocational education in Thailand has not played an important role in preparing workers for industry. Bhumirat (n.d.) explained that nationwide policies regarding vocational education are often not sustained because of frequent changes of government. The country lacks policy guidelines in relation to vocational education and, in general, has no master plan for human resource development. Vocational teachers often lack industry experience and there tends to be a lack of cooperation between vocational institutions and industry.

Bhumirat (n.d.) emphasised the need for vocational education to provide competence standards. In the European Union, competence standards have received much attention in vocational, technical education (Mulder, Gulikers, Biemans & Wesselink 2009). Competence development depends to a degree on one's prior education since the more educated workers are, the more likely they will participate in workplace learning opportunities (Chisholm & Fennes 2006). …