3 million jobs to go if Thailand fails to navigate technology upheavals

THE country could lose as many as three million jobs over the next 20 years if it is unable to adapt to and use disruptive digital technologies, the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) president, Somkiat Tangkitvanich, warned yesterday.

At the TDRI’s annual conference,Somkiat said disruptive technologies could prevent the economy from growing at an average of 5 per cent a year over the next 20 years, as targeted by the government.
Under this scenario the job losses would be massive, he said, noting the damage already done to Thailand’s print and television media operators by radical changes in technology. Somkiat predicted that, if Thailand cannot adapt, the economy would grow by only 2.1 per cent annually and three million jobs would disappear.

The government, aware of the risks of the country being left behind, has initiated the Thailand 4.0 policy to promote the digital economy.
However, Somkiat said that the government may not meet its own target for steering the country to achieve high-income status in the next 20 years.He projected that the government will achieve only 25 per cent of its target in developing the farm and service sectors and 50 per cent of the target for the industrial sector. The government may attract some private investment, but not much. “We make an assessment that under the Thailand 4.0 scenario, the Thai economy will expand at 3.1 per cent and this would result in a loss of 1.5 million jobs,” said Somkiat. This is because the country faces shortages of skilled labour and the policies aimed at addressing this problem are not well coordinated.

The government does not have a policy for exploiting the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) in industry, an essential element for the digital economy, Somkiat said.

Many countries such as China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have articulated AI policies and they invest heavily in research and development related to AI.
He predicted that many jobs would be replaced by AI as its uses make inroads into the economy.

He urged the government to do more in order to advance the economy. Somkiat has proposed the so called 3 C model: craft economy, creative economy and care economy.
This add-on to Thailand 4.0 would drive economic growth to 4.3 per cent, enabling Thailand to become a high-income country in the next 20 years. This would also na-
row the income gap between the rich and the poor, Somkiat added.

According to TDRI researchers, many careers will be significantly affected, including those in the textile industry and other manufacturing operations, and the pressures would also be felt among cashiers, accountants and lawyers.

Elsewhere in the economy, some 80 per cent of value-added local media will be lost to giant foreign competitors, such as Facebook and Google, in the next 20 years. More than 20 per cent of the value-added financial sector will be lost to foreign rivals and 20 per cent of the value-added manufacturing sector will be drained away to foreign competitors.

This article is written by Wichit Chaitrong, a columnist at The Nation. It is first published on May , 2018.