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The Unemployables

It is high time youth need to realize that the stigma attached to blue collar jobs as unfortunate as it may be still offers great promise as another avenue for gainful employment

Young man from Trashigang, Pema, came to the capital seeking better opportunities. Having dropped out of school after class 12, the 21-year-old traveled all the way from his small village with hopes of landing a job.


Seven months and numerous interviews later, he is still jobless. And, he is not alone.
There are many others like him who have left their rural homes after completing Class 10 or 12, seeking jobs in the capital, and compounding his problem further.


For them, it is a losing battle against diminishing pocket money, and increasingly irate relatives, who bear the inconveniences of supporting them in the capital while they search for employment.

 
With more than half of the population of Bhutan below the age of 25, an increasing number of school leavers entering the job market coupled with limited job opportunities in the government and a slow rate of job openings in the private sector make it extremely difficult to find employment.


In plain terms, this means thousands of Bhutanese are unemployed or still looking for some form of employment. To get a perspective, until a decade ago, on an average, each year, there were about 6,000 job seekers. The figures have shot up drastically over the years. As of last year, there were more than 19,000 youth seeking jobs, of which almost 15, 000 comprised of class 10 and 12 dropouts. The figures will only keep growing as the years go by.


Each year the government can absorb just a handful of university graduates who appear for the Bhutan Civil Service Examination. For example, of the 2, 500 plus graduates who registered this year, only a few hundred will be taken in by the government.


In the past, unemployment was not a problem when over 90 percent of the population drew their sustenance from agriculture. But today, the new cash economy has transformed all the old rules of the game.


The royal civil service stepped in as a significant source of employment when Bhutan was first making a transition from an agrarian economy to a modern bureaucracy with agricultural roots (in the 1960s). Today the government is nearing saturation point and the private sector has not yet stepped up to absorb all the remaining unemployed. Unemployment rate in the age group of 15-24 is the highest and to counter it, a lot more jobs need to be created.


Also adding to the problems, the migration of rural youth into urban settlements strips labour resources from the countryside while aggravating the problems in the towns and cities.


There is also the prevailing opinion that a private sector job is not as respectable as a government position. Most jobseekers prefer the civil service because there is job security there. The private sector still does not offer any big benefits, such as continuing education and training, and there is always the issue of job security.


Another common frustration continuously echoed by the government is that our youth do not want to go where there is demand. They seem to have a preference for the desk or white collar jobs.


It is high time our youth realize that the stigma attached to blue collar jobs as unfortunate as it may be still offers great promise as another avenue for gainful employment. However, to promote blue collar jobs in Bhutan, a total revamp of the concept of blue collar jobs is necessary.


The social stigma needs to be removed and that can be achieved only when blue collar jobs are made much more attractive. And to make it attractive, wages have to be higher; remunerations have to be as attractive as those offered by white collar jobs, and working conditions have to be improved. In the end, it all boils down to advocating the dignity of labour.


From the government’s side, the problems have not gone completely unrecognized.


A few years back, the labour ministry started a program called the Income Generating Support Program (IGSP). The idea was to promote rural entrepreneurship by providing start-up capital to rural youth. Further, a number of entrepreneurship and apprenticeship training programs were also initiated. But, the reluctance of Bhutanese youth to take up blue collar jobs failed to garner much response.


Today, the number of pre-employment programs has further been enhanced but jobseekers need to approach it with the right attitude. Even with continuous announcements made by the ministry in the private, corporate and non-government organizations, there aren’t many takers.


Some argue that all that is being done by the government isn’t enough. But, what holds more promise is the fact that the government is confident of not only creating more jobs, but also improving the working conditions in the private sector, whereby providing enabling working conditions to attract the youth to take up these jobs.


Meanwhile, young job seekers like Pema can put their best foot forward and draw comfort from the fact that there is hope on its way, even if it may not necessarily be the kind they expect.

 Lobzang Dorji


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