The construction industry has almost come to a standstill. It is not because of lack of raw materials or the weather. It is the shortage of workers. The more we delay the on-going construction, government or private, the costlier it is going to become.
The labour ministry is allowing foreign workers, skilled and professionals to come into the country if all protocols are followed. The protocols are strict. It should be given the risk of a community transmission. Although the figures are not revealed, hundreds of people have applied to bring in foreign workers. What the construction industry lacks today are workers, skilled or unskilled.
Foreign workers could come and build roads, bridges and buildings and go. But this is just another short-term solution. The better solution to the problem of skilled workers is in the ministry’s Build Bhutan Project. The ministry while allowing recruitment of skilled workers have made it mandatory to employ unskilled workers from the project. The project is receiving a good number of applicants. There are 1,164 Bhutanese registered. However, the requirement is more. So far, employers have requisitioned for more than 4,000 workers to work in the construction sector.
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up a lot of opportunities and solutions. The construction industry is dependent on imported labourers. It is said that foreign workers are cheap. Ask those in the sector. It is not cheap. Nor are they the best of workers. The dependence is because Bhutanese are reluctant to dirty their hands. We always blame the mismatch of skills and job and the mind-set. Covid-19 has shown that Bhutanese are willing to work. There are tour guides, entertainers and those working in the hotel industries taking up all sorts of odd jobs. They take pride in it.
The ground is set. There are jobseekers and there are employers. The government is encouraging people to join the construction sector and ensuring that they will be trained and protected. With interventions, we can make the construction sector attractive. It is not new. Those working with the Construction Development Corporation Ltd. know that with the right attitude, policy and interventions, Bhutanese will happily work in any sector.
That Bhutanese will not take up “blue collar” jobs is a myth. Situations will force people to change their “mind-set.” If we can make the construction sector the most attractive sector, we will have no dearth of jobseekers. And if we can build skills, the “jobs and skill mismatch” excuse of the past few decades will be resolved.
Here is an opportunity for both the government and the thousands waiting for jobs. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.