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Addressing unemployment will require mindset change

Bhutan has reached a critical stage of development where employment seekers outnumber job vacancies. Even as we are – according to some well-regarded financial reports – the fastest-growing economy in the region we do not seem to be creating enough employment opportunities. And the challenge is growing.

There was a time when civil service, the biggest employer in the country, had high absorption capacity. Not any more. Today, the civil service which is fully saturated is becoming ever so small and compact. Meanwhile the private sector growth, which has been wobbling without any real policy direction or sustained effort, is able to take in only a few young jobseekers that is growing by the year. The current national youth unemployment rate of 13.2 percent is staggering.

Some are of the view that there are enough jobs in the country; only there aren’t enough takers. It may be true. Surveys have repeatedly found that young Bhutanese jobseekers fresh out of schools, institutes and universities lack skills required to take the jobs that are available. Jobseekers have problems of their own. They do not look to blue-collar and low-paying jobs as prospective employment opportunity. Parents and jobseekers still prefer safe, high-paying and stable desk job to employment in the private sector. Self-employment is not easy for many due to various reasons like small market and lack of easy access to finance.

It must be recognised that rising youth unemployment is not just a problem for the increasing number of jobseekers; it is a national problem the consequence of which, in the long run, could be expensive for the country. Frustrations and hopelessness that our young people are confronting today are already showing in the form of rising crimes and substance abuse.

If skills mismatch, as the reports tell us is the leading factor that contributes to joblessness among the young, it points to our failure to prepare our children for reality out of school and university campus. It is a telling sign that our planning for the future has been pitifully short-sighted. We are only now thinking about an education system that will suit the needs of the changing times. In other words, education system’s central focus will shift to providing our children with skills that will stand them in good stead when they graduate and enter the job market. But then, even if we succeeded in doing it, it will take decades before we can reap any benefits from it.

What is critically important is to inspire self-employment in a big way so that the endeavour leads to creating more jobs in the country. Doors to finance have been lately opening to our young entrepreneurs which is encouraging. More important, however, is changing the mindset of our young so that they do not only look to civil service for employment. This will not be easy, but we must do it. A change in the society’s outlook can contribute significantly to addressing some of the pressing challenges we are faced with this day.

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