Labour ministry come up with engagement, if not employment programmes
Yangchen C Rinzin
Close to 30,000 Bhutanese are seeking jobs currently. The number includes those laid off or affected by the pandemic and others returning from abroad, adding to the unemployment pool of 8,000 jobseekers that already existed before the pandemic.
More than 13,000 lost jobs after Covid-19 pandemic hit Bhutan in March. Another 8,000 people returned from overseas, of which, 90 percent were working overseas. More than 3,000 are still expected to return home due to the pandemic. July alone saw more than 600 Bhutanese lose jobs.
Bhutan’s overall unemployment rate stands at 2.7 percent, according to the Labour Force Survey report (2019) or more than 8,000. The youth unemployment rate stands at 11.9 percent.
Lyonchhen during a meeting with executives and ministers last week described this trend as worrying, which if not solved, would lead to a social crisis.
“We have to create jobs for them,” Lyonchhen said. “We’re worried since the jobseekers have increased by 3 percent while job opportunities have decreased by 3 percent.”
Lyonchhen added that if this trend continues and if not addressed, the workplace will shrink by 10 percent, meaning the jobs will drop by 10 percent.
However, measures are being put in place to address the unemployment issues, according to the labour and human resources minister Ugyen Dorji. One of the measures was the Build Bhutan Project that targets engaging 7,000 jobseekers in the construction sector. More than 1,000 have registered for the project as of July 10.
This has happened after many foreign workers could not return to Bhutan from the winter break due to the pandemic creating a shortage of workers in the country.
Lyonpo had earlier told Kuensel that engaging in the construction sector was the only option to solve unemployment, as there was no other business.
The Labour minister in an email interview said that all the programmes carried out by the ministry to address the unemployment issue before the pandemic was put on halt after Covid-19 hit Bhutan.
Lyonpo said this was because the government directed to slow down on the implementation of programmes as the threat of Covid-19 pandemic had spread globally.
“It was a preventive measure but also to allow the government to plan a proper response to the pandemic.”
However, recognising the impact of Covid-19 on employment where many were being laid off, Lyonpo said the ministry immediately conducted a quick survey of enterprises and industries that were most likely to lay off workers.
Accordingly, lyonpo claimed that the ministry whose vision is to ensure gainful employment for all Bhutanese workforce has been working/worked on various programmes.
To learn and enhance skilling and grab an opportunity to earn in future, the ministry has initiated a free online programme through “learn with Coursera” where the ministry has received free access for 10,000 learners.
More than 3,000 have joined the Coursera programme as of now, and Bhutanese will have free access until December.
Lyonpo said another ICT and online freelancing programme has also been initiated, which will be launched soon and benefit about 200 jobseekers. “This will make use of the work from home and freelancing opportunities available through the use of ICT.”
The ministry is also reviewing various programmes under skilling, youth engagement and entrepreneurship to make it more responsive to the needs of those affected by the pandemic.
“The programme has been redesigned to make it more accessible and flexible to benefit a wider range of beneficiaries. This will also benefit overseas returnees.”
The ministry has also launched a new programme that comprises skilling, Youth Engagement for Livelihood Programme (YELP) that was on halt and resumed from July 16, entrepreneurship and support services.
Lyonpo explained that YELP would support both employers and those getting engaged/employed where a wage allowance of Nu 5,000 a month would be provided for a duration ranging from three to 12 months.
“We’ve revised the YELP guidelines to facilitate engagement of both unemployed youth and those affected by Covid-19,” Lyonpo said. “Focus is now on engagement and not employment.”
YELP allows those that want to take up agriculture to form groups of three persons. To provide gainful employment, critical skills training was reinforced in partnership with government and CSOs and provided skilling support. The programme was earlier put on halt, which otherwise, would have trained about 900 individuals.
Critical skills training activities include western garment tailoring, food and fruit processing, online freelancing, multimedia, animation, coding, graphic, designing, among many.
Western garment tailoring will train 150 affected tailors in August.
“It would also explore to support the skilling of women and those vulnerable, especially those affected by the Covid-19. We aim to skill more than 2,000 in the year 2020-2021,” Lyonpo said.
Some of the initiatives include entrepreneurship development programme to support those who want to set up their own small business/new start-ups that are not launched yet.
Lyonpo added that considering the current situation, the ministry had redesigned the critical capability programme to meet the upskilling needs of those affected by Covid-19 in different sectors.