Shortage of 'human capital' hits every major Thai sector: The Nation

Civil aviation authorities suggested last week that the severe shortage of qualified pilots in the country could be alleviated by allowing foreign pilots to fly Thai planes.
Civil aviation authorities suggested last week that the severe shortage of qualified pilots in the country could be alleviated by allowing foreign pilots to fly Thai planes.PHOTO: REUTERS

Civil aviation authorities suggested last week that the severe shortage of qualified pilots in the country could be alleviated by allowing foreign pilots to fly Thai planes.

Suthichai Yoon

The Nation/Asia News Network

The first question that inevitably came to mind was: When did they realise that the country was suffering a "severe shortage" of people trained to fly commercial aircraft?

How was it that the Thai people were suddenly told that the shortage was so bad that we need an extra 2,000 experienced pilots to fill the gap?

The second question was: If the shortfall of trained pilots is so serious, why have the country's civil aviation authorities been so busy issuing licences for new airlines, big and small - so much so that we now have at least 40 carriers in operation?

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), I have it on good authority, is also suffering from a pilot shortage and is in the process of wooing experienced pilots from commercial airlines.

That will certainly compound the crisis. A "brain drain" will make things worse before they get better.

It's unimaginable, of course, for the RTAF to consider hiring foreign pilots to fly our military aircraft.

But is there anything wrong with foreign pilots flying our commercial flights?

Not if you look back to the time when Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was virtually managing Thai Airways International back in the '60s - and foreign pilots in the cockpit was a common phenomenon.

Thai pilots were trained under the supervision of foreign instructors, producing impressive performances.

Things went downhill after the merger of the domestic Thai Airways with Thai International, when political and bureaucratic interference overttok the national carrier's management.

Did any responsible agency sound a warning when the civil aviation authorities were approving applications for new licences by airlines when it was clear that the country was suffering from a shortage of qualified cockpit personnel? None.

Who should be called into account when the supply of "human capital" can't meet the demand, real or not? The answer is: Nobody knows where the buck stops in the long twisted line of command haunted by corruption almost every step of the way.

Even more worrisome is that the "severe shortage of qualified personnel" affects more than just the airline industry. It has hit almost all our core economic sectors, the performance of which determines whether we can pluck ourselves out of the much-vaunted middle-income trap.

The serious skills shortage is being felt at every level, from the very basic "vocational workers" to the high technology field of data scientists - not to mention our almost non-existent pool of experts in artificial intelligence.

In the hospitality field, we hear consistent complaints about the lack of Chinese-speaking tourist guides, which is closely linked to the shortage of Chinese-language teachers.

At the same time, the Education Ministry has taken new initiatives to launch campaigns to improve English-language teaching and learning skills around the country. This is obviously a response to the longstanding problem of a lack of good English-language teachers.

All the talk about "reform" in the past years has yet to produce any concrete scheme to implement an effective policy on immigrant labour. This despite the fact that we will officially become an "ageing society" in the next decade.

There doesn't seem to be any clear collaboration between policymakers working on human resource planning and those analysing the impact of the country's worsening demographic composition.

When all is said and done, the "human resource crisis" at the national level in all vital fields can be traced back to the most calamitous shortage of all: the lack of visionary and qualified politicians at the top.

This, in turn, has brought about a shortage of qualified technocrats who once served as the "brains trust" for the formulation of the country's development blueprint across every important sector.

The "brain", too, seems to show growing signs of atrophy.