Thailand has a huge metal production industry and many people are trying to make their way in.
The country’s metalworkers are a growing community, and as they get a bit older, they’re finding ways to use the skills they’ve honed over generations to improve their own lives.
One such young metalworker is Thaewen Thanjakul, 23, who was born in Vietnam and grew up in the U.S. before moving to Thailand at the age of 14.
He’s currently working in the metal industry as a secondary metal processing company in Bangkok.
“I started working as a metal processing worker in 2012,” Thanjacul said.
“After I was finished, I decided to go to school and get a degree.”
Thaengnakul started working at a metal plant in Pattaya after finishing high school.
“There was a time when I had no idea how I wanted to make a living.
I didn’t even know how to cook, but I was just looking for an opportunity to learn something,” he said.
But after a few years working at the factory, he felt his life had changed.
“When I was working in my own factory, there was no food, and I was hungry.
But that changed with working at another company,” he continued.
“This is how I was able to make enough money to be able to buy a home in Pattay.
I can afford to live here.”
Thanjapul’s story isn’t unique.
The U.N. says that in 2015, there were 1.8 million workers in Thailand, up from 2.1 million in 2014, according to the International Labor Organization.
“Thailand’s economy is growing at a rapid pace and it has an opportunity for many more young people to gain a sense of belonging and self-worth,” said U.K. Ambassador to Thailand, Robert Wigmore.
“Many of these young people are struggling with some of the same challenges that the rest of the world faces as it transitions to a new age.
As Thailand transitions from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, it’s crucial that we look at their needs and aspirations and provide a safe, secure and sustainable environment for them to flourish,” Wigall added.
Thai metalworkers often face some of Thailand’s harshest environmental conditions.
Workers at the copper mining plant in Anan, which produces more than a quarter of the country’s copper, work in extremely harsh conditions, including extreme heat, heavy metals and high temperatures.
Workers have also faced environmental issues in the past.
The company that employs Thaegnakuls brothers, Metal Industries of Thailand, has faced lawsuits from environmental groups and is also accused of using a toxic chemical that was found in the company’s drinking water.
Thai steel workers also face an uncertain future as they become increasingly older.
“In the next 20 years, the demand for steel will outstrip supply.
The government is also moving to reduce the number of jobs, but this will not go away,” Thanajapul said of the situation in the steel industry.
“A lot of the young people who come here to work have already started paying taxes, but the future is not as bright for them.”
Thailand’s copper and steel industry is growing in the country, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
“The industry needs to be managed in a way that’s not harmful to the environment and the health of the workers,” Thanjanakul said, “and I think that the government has done a good job of that.”