Seven professions in the labour market will be freed up in 2015 by Asean nations under mutual recognition agreements (MRAs). But it will not be easy for Thai workers in these jobs to gain accreditation, Assoc Prof Patcharawalai Wongboonsin, a researcher from Chulalongkorn University’s College of Population Studies, told a seminar last week.

Accreditation by foreign countries requires top qualifications, and most Thais would find it really hard to reach the criteria in order to be recognised in Asean, Patcharawalai said.

She spoke at a seminar on Thai workers’ qualifications for the Asean labour market, held as part of a Future of Thai Education symposium, at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani.

The seven occupations she referred to are: medical practitioners, dental practitioners, nursing services, engineering services, architectural services, surveying qualifications, and accountancy services.

Thais’ lack of foreign-language skills was an obvious major obstacle, compared to people from Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Without accredita-tion by foreign countries, Thai engineers would lag behind rivals in Singapore and Malaysia in foreign recognition, she said, noting that Singapore had been accredited by many engineer-ing technology leaders, including the US, UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Malaysia was trying for similar recognition.

“Now, less than 100 engineers across the region have been re-cognised as Asean chartered professional engineers because it’s really tough and difficult to achieve the criteria,” Patcharawalai added.

Only 3,712 engineers – just 2 per cent of the total 170,830 engineers in Thailand – have the necessary certificates, portfolios and eight years of continuous work experience. More newly graduated engineers who have just started their careers are likely to change to other fields.

The researcher said engineers who want to register as Asean chartered professionals had to apply to the Asean Chartered Professional Engineer Coordinating Committee. Important criteria include a bachelor’s degree in engineering accredited by a professional agency in their own country or in countries that would hire them; having at least seven years’ working experience; and having been in charge of important work for at least two years.

The criteria for Asean professional architects are also difficult to achieve – people must have worked in architecture for at least 10 years, half of which they must have held a professional licence; and been in charge of important architectural projects for at least two years.

The demands mean architects have to plan, design and coordinate with agencies in a public |building construction project. However, Thai architects’ training is usually limited to design, so individuals here need to understand and be responsible for a complete project, or one that is made up of various fields, according to Patcharawalai.

“With these tough criteria, most Thai engineers and architects cannot compete with leading skilled workers in the region,” she said.

Boonlert Theeratrakul, director of the labour market research division at the Department of Labour, said a survey found many Thai workers lacked most in English, IT and numerical skills.

“So, this makes it really hard for them to compete in Asean,” he said.

Patcharawalai also said Thai professionals had more weak points than strong ones. Most workers in Thailand were low-skilled, although Thais were easy to train and could learn their jobs quickly. They were polite and not aggressive. However, Thailand had fewer individuals at medium and high skilled and professional levels. Many workers lacked training, preparation, ethics, discipline and punctuality.

Therefore, she urged Thai authorities to prepare Thai students in those professions for the future.

In 2015, the number of workers in the Asean region is expected to increase from 250 million to 300 million. Higher quality Chinese and Indian workers were likely to come to the Asean region as well, said Chirapun Gullaprawit, director of social development strategy and the planning office at the National Economic and Social Development Board.

“Thailand should prepare its workforce with different levels of ability to gain higher quality so that they can compete in the Asean labour market,” Chirapun urged.

He said the education system in Thailand should produce workers for the 21st century with discipline, synthesising, creative, respectful and ethical minds, aside from knowledge in their fields and professional skills. –Wannapa Khaopa, The Nation/Asia News Network