Ploy brought in a couple of youngsters to my workshop yesterday. "They are looking for work in electronics', she said. 'Do you want to talk to them'? By then Ploy had already sat them down so there seemed little option. One boy and one girl, brother and sister, he 16 and she 18 years old, but it appeared only the boy was looking for work, for his summer holidays from school.
We have been talking about taking an engineer on, but not a youngster, and what can he know at 16 that could help me was my first and lingering thought. He spoke very little English despite Ploy's encouragement, (it is not uncommon for Thais to know some English but be frightened of using it), so translation came through his sister and Ploy.
I warmed to him quickly. He was studying electronics at a local college, with little other subject matter it appears; a little maths and even less English. No physics strangely, but the course he was doing was clearly a very practical course - the training was for technicians not engineers. However that immediately made him useful as, unlike most graduate engineers from the West, he could hold a soldering iron without wondering why his hand was getting hot. He could read a circuit diagram and recognise components on a printed circuit board. At college they mostly worked on audio power amplifiers, power supplies and some other meatier stuff. I don't think he had seen a surface mount component before. But at sixteen, this is impressive.
He has one more year of college so we have him for only six weeks before college starts again and his ambition seems limited to working for a large local company such as Siam Cement. I put him straight on that. Ploy did her selling bit - you get to work with an expert, she said [I think] bringing out all my electronics awards - and we sent them home with a brochure and a business card, a lot to think about and instructions for him to talk with his sister and parents.
A couple of hours later he called back. Yes, he would like to work for us if possible.
My experiences with graduate engineers have not been good; (and it is not just my opinion, there is a general feeling in the industry that graduates are being produced with limited skills and no ability to think for themselves). Yes, they can write 'C' code, but an intellectually challenged rabbit can do that; do they know how to design a long-tailed pair or a phase locked loop. Now this youngster doesn't know how to do that either, but he is sixteen and had the wherewithal to look for work in his summer break so he could gain some more experience. (Ploy compared him to her daughter, who is spending the summer break showering us and her father with requests for a couple of million baht so she can have a better apartment in Bangkok and posting silly photos of her and her friends on Facebook. Suggestions, from Ploy, that she should go home and help her father's business were met with silence).
He doesn't want a salary, just to learn. He is happy to work 6 days/week if need be. He was nicely presented and although (very) nervous, spoke well and confidently. He clearly has a supportive family if they are like his sister.
It is unfortunate that his ambitions are limited to being a technician all his life, but I suspect a lot of that is related to the Thai's sense of where they are in society. University may be too expensive for his parents which may have limited his outlook. Start-ups are rare here, certainly in electronics, but with the opening up of the ASEAN borders in 2015, his opportunities will increase many-fold. I think a professor from Chulalongkorn university estimated that only 6% of Thai engineers in the country would qualify to work abroad at the moment, although part of that is the limited (English) language skills. Maybe we can help him aim for that 6%.
Turning up on someone's doorstep to ask for work, and especially from someone who doesn't speak your language must be incredibly daunting. He has no plans for university, after his next, final year at college he just wants to work full time. Not having a degree will harm his career prospects, unfortunately; in some ways he is a throwback to those apprentice days of my youth. I know which type of engineer I would prefer to employ and it is an unexpected benefit of living in here.
If he leaves with nothing else perhaps I can at least instill in him a complete disrespect for management and a hatred for marketing.
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