Head of True Digital Academy on a Mission to Tackle Thailand’s Digital Skills Gap and Cultivate Future-Ready Workforce

26 September 2023

Since its launch in late November last year, Chat GPT has attracted over 100 million users in just two months. Among these users are major companies like Microsoft, Expedia, Coca Cola, and Snap Inc.


In recent years, digital transformation has become a top agenda for the business sector. The introduction of Generative AI, set to revolutionize the way of work, has accelerated companies’ efforts to adopt this new trend to gain a competitive advantage.


True Blog sits down with Chonnikarn ‘Fern’ Jira, Head of True Digital Academy (TDA), to discuss the challenges facing Thai education and its workforce amidst technological disruption and how True Digital Academy supports Thai businesses in embracing digital transformation.

Closing Thailand’s Digital Skills Gap

“Today, the issue of skills mismatch has become a critical concern. We’re experiencing a shortage of workers in STEM and digital areas. Even if we have graduates from the right fields, their skills may not fit the quickly changing job market,” Dr. Chonnikarn says.  


According to the World Economic Forum, over 44% of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next five years. As a result, it’s crucial for individuals to engage in upskilling and reskilling to adapt to the evolving job market.


Acquiring skills to meet changing job market demands has become a significant challenge that requires attention from all stakeholders, while the changing technology landscape is driving the need for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) professionals and digital experts

Dr. Chonnikarn also notes that 2023 marks a significant technological turning point, with the generative AI eyeing mass adoption, creating both opportunities and challenges for humanity. Within the job market, generative AI holds the potential to take over specific roles currently performed by humans. Therefore, those in the job market need to adapt, keep up with the latest trends, and cultivate essential future skills, encompassing technological literacy, creativity, and critical thinking.


Disappearing Barriers to Learning

After graduating from high school in Thailand, Dr. Chonnikarn received the prestigious ‘King’s Scholarship,’ which enabled her to continue her education in the United States. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and later pursued a doctorate program in Technology & Operations Management at Harvard University.


Before starting college, she  spent a year at a school in the United States to get used to the American education system and prepare for the SAT exam. During this time, she noticed the clear differences between the American and Thai education systems.


“During my high school years in Thailand, we had only three program choices: Science-Math, English-Math, and Language-Arts, with most exams in a multiple-choice format. However, in the US, I discovered that students could simultaneously study subjects like chemistry and French, without rigid divisions between science and the arts. Their areas of study were driven by their interests but still fell within a structured framework that ensured a comprehensive learning experience in each subject,” Dr. Chonnikarn explains. “Critical thinking was seamlessly integrated into the curriculum, encouraging students to establish meaningful connections, engage in debates, analyze information, and develop critical writing skills. These abilities are the foundation for keeping up with our ever-changing world.”


Dr. Chonnikarn believes that Thailand’s education system has undergone a significant transformation at both the secondary and higher education levels. The key focus of this change is flexibility in curriculum design. Students now can explore subjects beyond their chosen study program in an interdisciplinary manner, with increased collaboration from various stakeholders, including the private sector. Universities also acknowledge credits earned by their students through courses taken at other institutions or alternative curricula.


“It’s clear that the line between working and learning is becoming blurred. Even after we finish school or get university degrees, we need to keep learning. Lifelong learning is definitely a growing trend,” the Head of True Digital Academy says.


Combining Business Know-How with a Human Touch

After earning her doctorate degree, Dr. Chonnikarn returned to Thailand and began working with McKinsey & Company. Her responsible areas included digital transformation, digital businesses, and education. Later, she transitioned into a leadership position at True Digital Academy.


“While at the consulting firm, I became deeply interested in digital transformation. I saw that the biggest challenge in digital transformation was about people,” Dr. Chonnikarn shares. “Education has always been my primary interest. It opens doors to many opportunities. I feel lucky to have had great education opportunities, and that’s why I’m eager to give back. For me, working at True Digital Academy is a perfect fit. It’s about empowering people, cultivating digital transformation, and promoting education.”

Digital Upskilling and Lifelong Learning

True Digital Academy (TDA) was founded in 2019 by Dr. Michael Gryseels, Chief Digital Officer of Charoen Pokphand Group, and Sarinra Wongsuppaluk, Chief Human Resources Officer of True Corporation. Its primary missions are to enhance Thailand’s human resources and organizations, equipping them with the skills needed to compete globally and tackle digital skills gap within the Thai workforce.


During its initial years, TDA primarily concentrated on aiding True Corporation’s digital transformation efforts. However, in 2021, it began expanding its services to external clients, including both corporate customers and individual learners. For corporate clients, TDA works with organizations to facilitate their transformation, emphasizing the development of digital talent through upskilling and reskilling initiatives. The second group encompasses individuals seeking to enhance their technology and digital skills or contemplating a career transition into the tech or digital field. TDA offers a world-class curriculum in partnership with General Assembly, a renowned leader in education and career transformation based in the United States.


TDA remains committed to creating innovative solutions to meet the needs of Thailand’s business sector and labor market. One such solution is the Recruit, Train, and Deploy (RTD) program, designed to assist organizations facing difficulties in finding the right digital and tech talents. Through this initiative, TDA supports the recruitment and training of candidates, ensuring they possess the necessary skill set and can seamlessly transition into their roles immediately after completing the training.


“TDA is a service provider that truly comprehends our client requirements. As an integral part of a tech company, we have firsthand knowledge of the skills in high demand in the actual business world. Currently, we are broadening our collaboration with universities through credit banks and joint courses, with the aim of establishing TDA as a substantial partner in advancing Thailand’s lifelong learning ecosystem,” Dr. Chonnikarn says.


TDA has played a crucial role in facilitating True Corporation’s transition into a telecom-tech company. To make this shift practical, TDA began by holding workshops with top management to design employee learning paths and leadership roles necessary for building a data-driven organization. Then, the focus shifted to line managers, making sure they understood the basics of digital knowledge for business and could apply what they learned based on their skills and expertise. This empowers them to lead change within their own teams.


The Data Champion initiative was also introduced, with representatives from each business unit at True Corporation being selected for the training. The program empowers employees to learn through hands-on experience, tackling real business challenges using analytical and data visualization tools. By the end of the training, employees are expected to be able to apply what they have learned in real-world settings.


Additionally, there are three-month scholarships available to both True employees and external individuals interested in pursuing a career as a data scientist, a profession that is currently in high demand.


Becoming Future-Ready

In today’s business environment, every organization emphasizes the need for building digital talents. Dr. Chonnikarn offers two perspectives on this concept. The narrower view refers to individuals working in technology or digital roles, while the broader one includes employees who can actively contribute to getting the organization ready for the future. In the latter context, employees should possess three essential traits:


1. Open mindset: They should be eager to embrace new knowledge, remain curious, and adapt effectively to change. This includes having an exponential mindset.


2. Skills: Skills encompass both hard skills, which are professional skills in their respective fields (e.g., coding skills), and soft or power skills. Hard skills evolve with the times. For instance, today coding skills are no longer substantial barriers for working individuals. Even those without an IT background can quickly learn software or application development, thanks to user-friendly low code/no code solutions. On the other hand, soft skills or power skills are increasingly crucial in the age of AI, particularly creativity and critical thinking.


3. Industry knowledge: Employees must have a strong understanding of and expertise in their specific field of work.


“In a fast-changing world where generative AI is a game-changer, brining both challenges and opportunities, the ability to learn is crucial. The best investment we can make is in ourselves. We should identify our interests, strengths, and explore what the job market demands, then concentrate on refining these strengths into valuable skills. By doing so, we can unlock our potential and excel in the digital age,” Dr. Chonnikarn states.