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The unemployment conundrum

Unemployment is the biggest issue confronting Bhutan today.

Even as efforts are made​,​this chronic problem persists. We have seen the issue being politicised and jobseekers blamed for lack of required skills or aptitude. Numbers of those employed are hurled when concerns are raised but survey results on the unemployment situation are withheld.

What we don’t see happening in this conundrum is an in-depth analysis of the unemployment situation in the country. All we have heard is that mismatch of skills to jobs in the market has resulted in unemployment. What has led to this mismatch and what could be done to address this problem does not appear to be a priority to our policy makers.

The series of initiatives taken to create jobs are appreciated but then questions arise ​about its sustainability.  Concerns are also raised ​about the long-term implications to the economy of sending the most productive group of population to work abroad. But elected governments come to office for a term and initiatives they take to address a problem are often those that produce immediate results. Responding to the impacts of such a decision in the long run is that government’s problem.

The issue of unemployment was the first question that was raised to the Prime Minister at the Parliament recently. The government claimed there are more jobs than job seekers in the country today and instead of giving the unemployment rate, the prime minister this time, shared absolute numbers. Based on number of jobseekers employed over the last four years, the government claimed to have employed 9,073 job seekers annually.  It has spent Nu 56,176 on each of the 20,578 jobseekers through its employment programmes.

However, according to the labour force survey report 2015, there were 8,660 unemployed people in the country based on which the labour ministry had calculated the unemployment rate at 2.5 percent. As of April last year, there were 8,185 registered job seekers. Against these statistics and in absence of data for 2016, the figures that the government has shared are inflated if not skewed. But with the government itself questioning the credibility of labour ministry’s statistics, the people have enough reasons to question the reliability of statistics that was shared recently.

Given the resources that have been spent to create jobs, make jobseekers employable and to employ them, there is a need for clarity on the unemployment situation. Waiting for the statistics bureau to analyse the unemployment data is not an answer​.​

​Our policy makers have to accept that unemployment is  a creation and an outcome of faulty policies. The job seekers are products of our education system and to an extent, so are the jobs. Instead of inculcating the values of vocational education or entrepreneurship, we have started to send our youth to work abroad. But we are quick to decry the choices of those who choose to leave.

Where did we go wrong that the country is today buckling under the pressure of its own making?

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