Stanford Thailand Research Consortium Panel Innovating Education to Power Thailand’s Future Economy

A Stanford Thailand Research Consortium (STRC) panel reveals the skills gap in Thailand’s workforce development can be solved through collaboration between educational institutes, the government, and the private sector.

In collaboration with the Southeast Asia Center (SEAC), AP (Thailand), Advanced Info Services PLC (AIS), and Kasikornbank, STRC hosted a virtual event entitled “Future Thailand - Innovation in Education and Workforce Development” on Wednesday, 2 June 2021 focusing on solutions to improve the skills gap in the workforce by empowering educators with the best practices to prepare Thailand’s youth for the ever-changing workplace.  

The Innovative Teaching Scholars (ITS) program, a key STRC research initiative, shared its progress and explored industry perspectives on enhancing the preparation of university students for Thailand’s transition into an innovation-based economy with a virtual panel discussion made up of Stanford University academics and members of Thailand’s private sector. 

The Stanford panelists included Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor in the Stanford School of Engineering, and Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Adjunct Professor in the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Invited industry panelists include: Kantima Lerlertyuttitham, Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Intouch Holdings and Chief Human Resources Officer at AIS; Vittakarn Chandavimol, Chief Corporate Strategy and Creation, AP (Thailand); and Ruangroj Poonpol, Chairman, Kasikorn Business Technology Group.

All panelists have been involved in the ITS program, which explores ways to enhance educator development to create engaging student-centered learning experiences that answer the needs of the private sector.  The research project identified key factors to support Thai professors in creating innovative learning environments for short-term and long-term transformation.  So far, despite the pandemic, the program has successfully supported 50 educators from leading universities in Thailand. 

The panel discussion gave key insights on how the education system can be innovated to answer the needs of companies.  

The Skills Gap in Thailand’s Workforce Development 

It has become clearly evident that there is a widening gap between knowledge Thai graduates attain from universities and the skills they need to launch successful careers in organizations, which are rapidly undergoing digital transformation. Companies in Thailand face the problem of having a short pool of talent to select from and spend a significant amount of time re-training fresh graduates skills.  

Ruangroj Poonpol, Chairman, Kasikorn Business Technology Group

“Good grades and GPA, do not have much correlation with a student’s performance because it takes a lot of knowledge and applicable skills.” - Ruangroj Poonpol, Chairman, Kasikorn Business Technology Group

While many may assume current hiring parameters would focus on technical skills, soft skills are just as equally or may even be more important.  All industry panelists agree graduates need to be able to accept failures, problem solve as a team, and apply theories.  Kantima said top students in Thailand tend to fail in the workplace because they focused too much on grades in school instead of having a growth mindset and the ability to adapt to different situations.  So companies look at whether students have been initiators of activities both inside and outside the classroom.  

Vittakarn Chandavimol, Chief Corporate Strategy and Creation, AP (Thailand)

“In the real world, we have to work with people with different knowledge, different experiences…across disciplines.” -Vittakarn Chandavimol, Chief Corporate Strategy and Creation, AP (Thailand)

Vittakarn agreed, saying graduates need to know how to apply theories in real life projects.  Most importantly Ruangroj and Kantima said students need to be able to work with others who have different backgrounds.

What Are the Skills Needed In the Next 10 Years?

Industry panelists agree students will need to be able to work with technology, have cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence. 

“We are in the age of continuous disruption with exponential changes occurring every year so there is a need for you to have the ability to continuously renew yourself.” - Ruangroj Poonpol, Chairman, KASIKORN Business-Technology Group

Ruangroj said people need to realize and accept that technology will become an even more integral part of work and life.  People will need to work more with Artificial Intelligence (AI), whether they are to be trained by it, to work with it, or to be commanded by it.  However the apocalyptic notion that robots will run the world is unlikely as humans are integral.  Therefore people need to have the ability to learn and relearn to renew themselves.  KASIKORN Bank is continually running programs to train employees because it is not a requirement for everyone to come fully competent with tech knowledge.  Instead it is how the individual is able to apply technology to their work.  

Kantima and Vittakarn agreed, saying employees need to have cognitive flexibility or the skill to actively learn.  People, including those in senior positions, need to constantly adapt to change and be comfortable to be in uncomfortable situations. Kantima said leaders need to change by putting the spotlight on new talent to learn together as an organization.  

Ultimately emotional intelligence, a key human ability, is crucial as collaboration is needed for success in any organization.  People need to be able to recognize colleagues’ emotions and expectations.  Vittakarn said this human touch is much more complex than any algorithm.   

How Are Companies Transforming Fresh Graduates?

At KASIKORN Bank, Ruangroj said the challenge is to re-skill graduates.  This usually takes 6 months.  As mentioned before, grades and GPA do not always correlate with students’ performance because they still need to apply their knowledge and skills.  A student with a 4.0 GPA could fail a professional test because the skills tested are not the same as the university tests they have passed.  This is why KASIKORN Bank is engaging with 10 universities in programs where feedback is given to the curriculum.  The company works closely with professors and students right from year 3 onwards.  The COVID-19 outbreak has led the company to digitize the program to improve productivity for over 450 new employees.  

Kantima and Vittakarn have also been working with educational institutes to change the mindsets of students from being just followers to being contributors to their education and work.  Kantima is also working with its own internal leadership to accept the fact that “old success does not guarantee new success” as being too comfortable with the success of the company may cause the company to lose out on new opportunities.  

Collaboration is Key

Sheppard added this is why the ITS program is not a one-off program as it seeks to create a community of practice that impacts both the educational institutions and the private sector.  The ITS program has been working closely with Thai professors to engage students more.  Both students and professors are encouraged to learn together.  Teachers are motivated to move from teacher centered classes to “messier” classes where students play a bigger role in their education.  Professors do not need to assume the position of being a “perfect” source of knowledge, but they should be good examples as innovators that are open to “bouncing” ideas and learning together with students.

Dr. Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor in the Stanford School of Engineering

“We don’t always do a great job teaching hard skills.  You get a perfect situation and apply the equations, but in real life, there’s messiness.” - Dr. Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor in the Stanford School of Engineering 

Sheppard said students on the other hand have to be responsible for their own career journeys.  They should seek the right knowledge and skills to prepare themselves for their careers.  They need to take the initiative of interning in companies and be open to taking risks to get work done.  

Kantima Lerlertyuttitham, Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Intouch Holdings and Chief Human Resources Officer at AIS

“Companies and institutions need to work together to get students ready for the real world before they graduate.” - Kantima Lerlertyuttitham, Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Intouch Holdings and Chief Human Resources Officer at AIS

Vittakarn agreed, saying students need to develop designing thinking and time management skills.  AP has initiated an open house to promote this and is working with Stanford University to promote real work skills in areas such as civil engineering and product design. 

AIS like AP is working with the education sector as well.  Kantima said the company is working with over 100 teachers nationwide to train students with skills that match the private sector requirements.  The company is also working with tutors who play an important role in skilling up students.  The project hosted the Jump Thailand hackathon which gathered students to innovate and work together to make their ideas a reality. 

More About Innovative Teaching Scholars Program

The ITS program will continue engaging Thailand’s educators with its program.  For more information you contact Judith Romero, Stanford Center for Professional Development +1 650-725-7289, [email protected]

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