In order to move up the value chain, Thailand needs more engineers. The challenge is how exactly to accomplish that goal.
“Actually it’s a fallacy that Thailand does not have enough engineers,” says Apinetr Unakul, president of the Thai Embedded Systems Association (TESA) and a professor of engineering.
Young engineers collaborate at CT Asia Robotics, a Thai-based company that has been able to attract engineers because of its unique vibe.
He points to statistics showing that some 6,000 students graduate from Thailand’s top four universities each year with degrees in a wide range of engineering disciplines, from electrical engineering to automotive to embedded design.
But not enough of those graduating engineers are entering the technical workforce in Thailand, he tells us, creating a shortage of talent -- from IP designers to embedded systems developers to product designers and software programmers -- that is thwarting Thailand’s efforts to expand its economy.
Thailand already has a toehold in the electronics design space, with companies like Silicon Craft and Design Gateway, two IC design companies. Similarly, Toyota Tsusho develops firmware, and Thaigertec offers embedded software solutions for the automotive industry.
But one challenge to future expansion is that, unlike a country like the US, which graduates some 60,000 engineers and computer science majors each year, Thailand does not have 40-plus years of engineers in the job market pipeline. It is only in recent years that there has been any emphasis on engineering as a core competence, and even with a laser focus on it now, the number of graduates here is dwarfed by such nearby countries as China and Taiwan.
Unakul believes that for too long Thailand has relied on exploiting its low labor wage, when it should have been focusing on making the transition to higher-value-added manufacturing, design, and semiconductor IP. “Industry is focused on low-value-added manufacturing, and there are no clear government support or initiatives to move forward,” he notes, frustration evident in his voice.
The sub-culture of Generation Y is often cited as one of the reasons behind why Thailand is facing a deficit of skilled technical workers. (Note that this point-of-view was solely expressed by people of the generation preceding Gen-Y’ers.)
“They do not want to work in a factory,” claims Unakul. But he acknowledges the fact that Thai industry and academia need to do a better job of enticing engineering students to work in the fledgling design industry here.
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