Friday, September 19, 2008

Globalisation transforms Thai employment market

NINA SUEBSUKCHAROEN

Among the far-reaching impacts of globalisation on the Thai employment market is that companies no longer specifically seek Thais for senior executive positions but want the people best equipped for such responsibilities, says Michael Ascot, partner in charge of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles in Bangkok.

There has also been a tremendous shift in people's behaviour in Thailand. The stereotype of yesteryear _ very hierarchical, polite and correct _ with everybody knowing their place in the society is no longer the norm. Often today's workforce is both multicultural and multi-generational and in this environment those who have the ability to absorb new concepts are the ones who succeed, he says.

While the tried-and-true method of building and cashing in on relationships still holds true today, another very important issue is selling facts. This has emerged from the ease of obtaining information from the internet, with most people checking Google and other search engines about products and prices before they go out and purchase goods.

''So what you are really looking for in the workforce is people who will take the raw data wherever it comes from and analyse it, look at what is relevant beyond their own job and role, look at their place in the big puzzle and then take action,'' says Mr Ascot.

For both a company and a country to get ahead it is worth remembering that the world is not looking for cheaper products but excellence, in his view. ''America is not a cheap country to operate in but there is a reason why most technology companies have their R&D facilities in California. It's not because they like the sun, it's not because they like the beaches, it's because they can get the right talent.''

While Thailand is no longer the cheapest place in the world for manufacturing it still has its strengths and among them is craftsmanship that no longer exists in many other places. It is also a good alternative to China, which is very big and risky. But it is vital that everyone who works in Thailand defines what it is that this country is good at.

''Strikes in Thailand recently have appeared on the front pages of papers around the world and they make people very uncomfortable. Now, if you are about to look at where you should put your next manufacturing base, you could say, 'Well why don't we put it in Vietnam?'''

Heidrick & Struggles has also noticed an interesting change that could strongly affect the Thai employment market in the years to come _ the country is now effectively beginning to export talent. ''By talent I don't mean labour. We have been exporting labour for many, many years. We are now beginning to export in two particular areas _ one is engineers, engineering managers, and two, our hospitality people.''

Thailand has reasonably good education in the engineering field. ''The Middle East and the Arab world are importing thousands of Thai engineers. We are losing them, so the people who are willing to travel will get exposure to another country, they will also get exposure to a different salary income and they can come back hopefully one day and help the country go forward.

''The challenge we will be faced with is that throwing money after people to bring them back is not going to work. Thais are good and loyal to their country, and it's wonderful, so most Thais at some point in life want to come home and we must then give them a home to come to that's modern, because they don't want to come home to the old style of business environment, the old style of not being able to discuss things openly.''

Hospitality too is also a major exporter of workers. Mr Ascot estimated that around half of the graduates in this field now head overseas, drawn by demand from new hotels in Dubai and Singapore. This could actually undermine Thailand's strength.

''Are we going to have enough for ourselves or are we going to look at a future where we have to import hospitality people? If that is what we have to do, then we are losing our competitiveness in the hospitality field.

''This is going to be the challenge of industry leaders here: to develop an environment where being young and having an opinion are perfectly appropriate and being old and having experience are also perfectly appropriate. But the leadership team is developed among the young and old, among different styles with this going back to multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce.''

Mr Ascot added that Thais should also get over their tendency to look at workers coming into the country in a negative way because it needs to have an adequate workforce when it is losing engineers and hospitality workers to other countries.

''The evidence that one needs to provide here to get somebody to work here is that we have to show that they can do something that Thais can't do. But there is nothing that a Thai can't do if he or she has the education, the knowledge, the ability and the openness. If they don't have that then it doesn't matter what nationality they are, they won't do.''

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