How can Thailand’s super-aged solve the hotel staff crisis?
While Thailand’s hotel and tourism recovery is moving forward at a faster-than-expected pace, the country’s acute hospitality staff shortage continues to worsen by the day. In what can best be termed a ‘people business’, hotel owners and operators and wondering where have all the people gone. It’s a worrisome trend and is only going to get worse as mass tourism returns.
Traditionally, Thailand’s hotel industry has seen an ever-growing population providing a steady stream of new, young workers flooding into the sector. But now a perfect storm in a post-COVID world where fresh school graduates are increasingly attracted to newer business sectors and the impact of technology has pushed the service sector lower and lower in terms of career preferences. The TikTok and Instagram generation often voices out that hospitality is just too hands-on and time-consuming a vocation.
That said, one of the most significant additions to Thailand’s hospitality workforce comes at the other end of the age spectrum, older part-time workers. According to newly released data from Kasikorn Research Center, the country is forecasted to be a super-aged society by 2029. The super-aged population classification means over 20% of the population is 65 and over. This comes at a time when the country has registered a steady decline in newborn children and adolescents for the past consecutive three years (2020-2022).Something has to give, and declining younger additions to the workforce are set to continue in the years ahead. With Thailand’s retirement age set at 60, an unrelenting number of older aged workers are being asked to retire or opting to, back of a refined labor code provision. But what happens next? Economic pressure, lack of access to quality medical care, and just plain boredom are increasingly pushing older Thais to seek a return to work.
One pitfall of hotels in Thailand and across Asia for that matter is an outright obsession with young workers and fresh graduates. The industry has done little in terms of valuing rich and diverse life experience and all too often view age as a financial and organizational liability. But with the stark reality of mounting staff shortages, it’s become a call to action for the hospitality sector to tap into new demographics.
A start-up group that is embracing this change and tapping into the pool of older human resources is the online part-time workplace SAIJAI.IO. Its journey has grown from providing homecare throughout Thailand with maids, babysitters, maintenance, pet care, divers, and tutors and now sprouted wings with a hospitality solution for hotels, condominiums and villas, and restaurants.
Speaking to SAIJAI’s Founder Viona Zhang, who talks passionately about how the platform aims to harness the potential of older workers, she says “The hospitality industry needs to realign its single-minded focus on training young staff who are just entering the workplace into a longer-term vision of life-learning. This includes reskilling older individuals who have not worked in hotels before and attracting a growing base of part-time resources.
We have seen a regime where hotels continue a short-sided approach by commoditizing contractual part-time staff with low wages, no benefits, and no training. The sad thing is so many older workers have been excluded from participating in the sharing economy. We are set to change this and a key value of SAIJAI remains its social mission in providing livelihood, access to low-cost medical insurance, and life-learning opportunities.”
Taking a final look at the super-aged phenomenon, inside the numbers, the most pragmatic way forward for Thailand and other countries facing this transition is that it’s not a matter of raising the legal retirement age or necessarily keeping older employees in the same job. What’s important is offering an alternative solution such as part-time work, that both utilize those with life experience and offers an economic benefit, along with extending the individual learning journey to the old and not just the young.