The coronavirus outbreak casts a shadow over the future of approximately 300,000 soon-to-be graduates this year.
The bleak prospect of unemployment and layoffs as the economy staggers back to growth is expected to persist for at least two years.
Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Suvit Maesincee said the government is preparing to create jobs for the unemployed in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak.
Among these groups are about 500,000 jobless graduates who have yet to find work since they finished their education and up to 300,000 new graduates who will enter the job market this year, Mr Suvit said. If some people in the workforce are to be laid off afterwards, the number could reach about one million.
The ‘unlucky generation’
“It is unlucky for our generation that we were born a year after the Tom Yum Kung financial crisis [in 1997] and are now facing the gloomy prospect of unemployment. At the time, my mother was laid off from a language institute,” said Peerawich Jitnarong, a soon-to-be graduate at Bangkok University’s Faculty of Humanities and Tourism Management.
His future now hangs in the balance after he was informed on March 5 that he would have to intern from home during his last semester of university. The announcement came after confirmed coronavirus cases in the kingdom rose.
“I was asked by my teacher to stop working at Don Mueang airport because it is a high-risk area,” he said.
“At the time, I thought I would work there to gain experience as I hope to become a pilot. However, many staff have been laid off,” Mr Peerawich added. “The coronavirus outbreak has devastated a once-secure airline business.”
Seeking new opportunities
The aviation industry has been hit hard as air travel restrictions were imposed to curb the spread of the disease. The government recently decided to provide financial support to airline companies to help them retain staff and resume flights.
Mr Peerawich said he and his friends are searching for new career goals and opportunities because he thinks the airline industry will offer fewer jobs for new graduates.
“I am good at drawing, so many people are hiring me to make stickers. I think I will do this for now, to help support myself and my parents,” he said.
“My teacher is also updating us on freelance work and free training programmes. I hope to see more job openings,” Mr Peerawich added.
Similarly, Weerapong Wichean, another soon-to-be graduate at Bangkok University’s Faculty of Humanities and Tourism Management, said the coronavirus outbreak struck just as he was about to complete his last semester.
“We suddenly switched to online learning in March. It was uncharted territory for students and teachers alike because there were many technical problems with applications, and distractions. To be honest, I didn’t understand the lessons and did not do well in an online exam,” he said.
Mr Weerapong said he is facing the bleak prospect of unemployment now that he cannot find a job in the tourism industry following the outbreak.
“I studied and planned to work in the tourism sector, but who will hire us when it is a tough time for businesses?” he said.
“I am feeling under pressure and depressed, but I can’t do anything except wait for the government to bring the pandemic under control so we can resume our [new] normal life,” Mr Weerapong added.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the number of visitors will likely fall by 60% to about 16 million this year, nearly halving foreign tourism income, but the total could go lower as the world awaits a vaccine rather than embarking on travel, or if a second wave of infections occurs.
Jirapron Chomchin, a graduate at Rajamangala Univeristy of Technology Thanyaburi’s Faculty of Mass Communication, was among the lucky ones offered full-time employment amid the outbreak. She will start her new job as a multimedia teacher at a vocational school next week.
“I felt the impact before I managed to land this job. I freelanced at an online magazine for a while,” Ms Jirapron said. “However, hit by the coronavirus, the company decided it could not afford to keep me. I also applied for media jobs at a television channel.
“Nowadays, jobs are harder to come by. If you look at job portals, you won’t see any updates.”
KKP Research forecasts that only one-third of the 340,000 new graduates to join the market this year will secure jobs which match their skills due to the economic impact of the outbreak.
Stagnating under lockdown
Anusorn Tamajai, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at Rangsit University, said the economic impact of the coronavirus is more serious than the Tom Yum Kung financial crisis.
“Many types of businesses are stagnating under the lockdown. Generating jobs for 18 million people, the tourism sector and its related services will shrink by half,” he told the Bangkok Post.
“Employers would rather keep experienced staff unless they want to restructure their businesses and use inexpensive young graduates,” Asst Prof Anusorn added.
The Bank of Thailand recently forecast the economy will shrink by 5.3% this year. Asst Prof Anusorn said lay-offs and unemployment will intensify in the second and third quarters and persist for at least two years.
“While some jobs will disappear, other jobs will grow, and new ones will emerge. However, the rate of employment will be lower because economic and social activities contract,” he said. “The workforce must adapt or it will be replaced by machines and made redundant.”
Chart your own course
Asst Prof Anusorn said the government must undertake megaprojects or sponsor the private sector to cushion the economic impact of Covid-19. “There will be at least seven million jobless people and thousands of those underemployed. In the worst-case scenario, there will be nearly 11 million jobless people,” he said.
Nuttarute Vongtangswad, lecturer of political science at Srinakharinwirot University, said he has listened to complaints from students and encourages them to chart their own course.
This is because the existing social and economic system is not designed to cope with viral disruption in the first place, Mr Nuttarute said.
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Learn to adapt and play your own game in a changing the environment,” he told the Bangkok Post. “Use your resources — whether they be money, skill or technology — to break new ground.”