Our problem-plagued education system has no shortage of critics. Perhaps the most frustrated among them are human resource managers in successful companies. They waste a lot of their time telling graduates clutching new degrees that the theoretical skills they have spent years acquiring are not easily marketable.
Then the failed job applicants join an estimated 400,000 other graduates in the often fruitless annual job hunt. But change is in the air and a ministerial initiative launched this week aims to tackle this problem at its source.
That will not be easy. For years, employers have blamed the Ministry of Education and the universities for turning out graduates who fail to match labour market needs.
Because employers had no use for the particular skills which graduates had acquired at university, some underwent occupational training courses to qualify for what work was available. In other words, white-collar workers were often retrained to fill blue-collar vacancies. The only alternative was unattractive, low-paid work.
Evidence of our mixed-up priorities emerged in a Quality Learning Foundation survey which found that while only a quarter of each year's graduates with degrees get jobs, 90% of those with vocational diplomas do.
What is needed now is a reversal of past policy. The rush for academic degrees and the decline in vocational schools teaching job-specific skills and manual trades sharply increased after all Rajabhat and Rajamangala institutions were upgraded to university status in 2003.
Now, a decade later, even more students are graduating with largely devalued degrees, only to swell the ranks of the unemployed. Many traditional vocational students have switched to pursuing degrees in white-collar fields, creating a massive imbalance.
Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng intends to tackle this imbalance by turning the clock back to prepare for the future. His policy is to greatly expand vocational education to be comparable to international standards and to increase the ratio of vocational to mainstream students to 51:49 by 2015. The ratio of vocational to mainstream students stands at 36:64 at present, so this is no easy task. It is also likely to prove an impossible one if the government continues its revolving-door attitude to the Education Ministry which has seen four ministers in two years, effectively sabotaging any continuity in carrying out policies.
The target is no arbitrary one; it is clearly designed to prepare the workforce for entry into the Asean Economic Community and the migration of labour that will follow.
The plan is to increase the number of vocational students by 75,600 next year to meet heavy industrial demand and economic growth. That means persuading this number of Mathayom 3 graduates to shift their studies from academic to vocational institutions.
Career-guidance teachers will stress the importance of vocational education and, rather ominously, there are plans for school admission criteria to be tweaked. Presumably any such "tweaking" will not be at the expense of competitiveness.
Mr Chaturon must also ensure his ministry has a sufficient number of well-qualified vocational teachers able to cope with a vastly increased number of students and follow a well-structured curriculum.
Right now, there is an alarming shortfall. We live in a complex world in which new technologies are being developed at a pace that outstrips the ability of many of our teachers to absorb and instruct their students.
As a result, some vocational students are being taught skills that are of little use in our fast-changing world. That failure could defeat the whole purpose of the new policy.