Thailand faces a labour shortage that is being exacerbated by demographic changes and economic challenges. Since 1993, the Total Fertility Rate has been below replacement levels, with birth rates hitting a 70-year low in 2023. 

A Steps trainee working in an inclusive business.
Photo caption: A Steps trainee working in an inclusive business.

According to Chris Cracknell, Chairman at Grant Thornton Thailand, the nation is heading towards a super-aged society by 2029. Retirees outnumbering new workers will cause a severe shortage of skilled labour in various industries, including machinery, automotive, and electronics. Simultaneously, the digital skills gap is widening, leading to increased demand for workers with adaptable mindsets. As Thailand approaches the middle-income trap, as a result, high labour costs further complicate economic growth.

In order to navigate this complex landscape, businesses must embrace transformative strategies, including the recruitment of PWDs and employees who identify as ND.

There is a 1:100 hiring quota of PWDs required by Thai law. Our Survey on Employment for People with Disabilities finds that both the public and private sectors have still not made satisfactory progress towards inclusion. Employers are most concerned about finding a suitable role for PWDs and often lack mediators who could match PWDs with their open jobs. Limited understanding among employers regarding reasonable accommodations and negative attitudes towards PWDs contribute to further exclusion from the workforce.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s report, Promoting An Inclusive Workplace for Persons With Disabilities in Thailand, cites three key challenges:

  • Employers’ preconception that PWDs are unable to perform required job duties
  • Adverse reactions from colleagues and customers, stemming from negative attitudes towards PWDs and the ND community
  • Limited understanding among employers regarding reasonable accommodations for PWDs or people who identify as ND

Thailand’s recent collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) 2023-27 confirms that inclusion is a strategic economic priority. The initiative aims to address gender inequality, environmental concerns, and the inclusion of PWDs. It offers a comprehensive framework for promoting decent work for all.

Early adopters of transformative inclusion can relieve skill shortages and drive innovation. However, true sustainability requires neuroinclusion, particularly for organisations setting out on their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) journey. Embracing inclusion and neurodiversity through ESG work is a holistic approach that will help organisations realise systematic efficiencies as they diversify and future-proof.

In Thailand, over 2.2 million people are registered as having disabilities, with nearly 9% being neurodivergent. Our research shows a significant proportion of those already employed in Thailand identify as neurodivergent, but have not disclosed to family, friends, or employers.

A report by Harvard Business Review claims that teams with neurodivergent professionals are 30% more productive than those without.

By empowering NDs and fostering workplace diversity, Steps believes in a future where neurodiversity is not only accepted, but also celebrated. We witnessed an increasing awareness regarding the importance of employee well-being, mental health and productivity through diversity and inclusion work. This also includes efforts to create more accessible environments for PWDs and the ND community.

Our Steps Inclusion Consulting team assists organisations who are looking to prioritise neuroinclusion as part of their current DEI framework by providing:

  1. Facilitating focus groups and interviews with all stakeholders (employers, employees, and throughout the supply chain)
  2. Accommodations training to all management and HR teams
  3. General neurodiversity training
  4. Co-creating a recruitment and onboarding process that is inclusive for neurodivergent individuals
  5. Baseline inclusion assessment to measure progress

As Thailand advances towards a more inclusive economy and society, Steps recommends and welcomes collaborative efforts and strategic partnerships amongst the public and private sectors. In short, embracing neuroinclusion isn’t just about meeting quotas. It’s about tapping into the diverse talents of every individual and fostering a culture of belonging in order to build a future where everyone thrives.