November 15, 2019
The Kenan Institute Asia, collaborating with JJN in an ongoing research project on Inclusive Industrialization for ASEAN, hosted a research workshop in Central Bangkok to present initial findings of the project to local stakeholders involved in the electronics sector. The event brought together representatives from the Department of Skill Development, the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare, Thailand Development Research Institute, the Good Electronics Network, the Electrical and Electronics Institute, the companies Western Digital and Electronics Industry Public Company Ltd (EIC).
Researchers from the Kenan Institute presented preliminary findings at the workshop based on their survey of 60 firms and 200 workers, technical staff and managers. The survey linked questions on firm-level investment and value chain participation with indicators for workforce development, including wages, training, working conditions and promotion. The researchers also conducted 40 interviews with experts from the public and private sector.
The presentation of preliminary findings was followed by a vivid discussion on current issues in the industry by the present stakeholders. Some of the take-aways from the discussion were as follows:
• Large companies, such as EIC and Western Digital, are constantly modernizing their production, including highly automated processes. This leads to a decrease in the demand for low-skilled workers, whereas their demand for technicians has risen in the last years.
• Firm representatives stated that the adoption of high-end technology in production also helps to balance temporary shortages of labor. In the past, many firms have been facing labor shortages, especially where technicians are concerned.
• Large firms are capable of adopting new production technology more easily, often supported by their headquarters based in the U.S., Japan or Europe. Many medium and small enterprises involved in component production do not have the same access to technology and financing options. This is why they primarily rely on labor-intensive production processes.
• Stakeholders highlighted the need for increased collaboration between the government, electronics firms and training institutions to close the skill mismatch of workers and open positions.
• A study by the Good Electronics Network cites case studies of workers increasingly laid-off due to the adoption of technology in the Thai electronics sector. At the same time, re-skilling and up-skilling programs by firms and the government are less accessible to production workers as compared to workers at the supervisory level.
The solutions brought forth by the workshop participants include the sector-wide implementation of re-skilling and up-skilling programs with special focus on production line workers, and the effective promotion of the Thailand Labor Standard.
The primary data will be analysed in more detail, while other research institutions of the project will contribute comparable evidence from Myanmar and Vietnam. This will provide a great opportunity to draw lessons from three country experiences in ASEAN to inform policies for inclusive sector development.