Thukten Zangpo  

The employment situation in the country is expected to improve but remain below pre-pandemic level.

With deep gross domestic product (GDP) contraction by -10.1 percent in 2020 due to Covid-19 containment measures, the overall unemployment rate almost doubled to 5 percent and youth unemployment rose to a record high level at 22.6 percent or 6,922, according to Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) annual report 2021.

However, the unemployment rate is estimated to drop to 4.7 percent in 2021 with GDP projected to grow at 3.3 percent. The youth employment rate is estimated to fall at 21.2 percent.

The unemployment situation is projected to further decline to 4.4 percent in 2022 and 3.9 percent in 2023 with the projected GDP growth 5.5 percent in 2022 and 5.3 percent by 2023.

“With the initiation of a skills development plan and foreign worker management strategy, the employment situation is to see growth in the medium term,” the RMA stated.

However, the number of employed Bhutanese would be far below the pre-pandemic level as the estimated unemployment rate is higher compared to 2.7 percent or 8, 699 unemployed persons in 2019.

According to the Royal Kidu office, there are about 54, 783 beneficiaries under the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu as of yesterday, highest number of beneficiaries being from the tourism sector and overseas returnees.

The World Tourism Organisation stated that tourist arrivals around the world might not return to their pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

“The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence,” it added.

Minister of labour, Karma Dorji, said that he was optimistic that the employment situation in the country would improve when the economy recovers from the impacts of Covid-19.

He said that the ministry had several programmes and interventions to steer the labour market. “Most of the programmes are geared towards the job seekers to make them capable of finding employment.”

Lyonpo added that the ministry has taken steps to promote self-employment through entrepreneurship as viable options to finding employment and recognises that skilling is the biggest differentiator when it comes to finding jobs in the labor market.

“The ministry is not tasked to create employment opportunities in the economy but rather facilitate the labor market to bridge the employers and the job seekers,” he said.

Employment  engagement initiatives

Lyonpo said that the ministry has implemented the skilling programmes like Skills Development Plan (SDP), Entrepreneurship Courses, Build Bhutan Project (BBP) and Youth Engagement and Livelihood Programmes (YELP) with private firms.

He added that the programmes are targeted for unemployed, laid off, and overseas returnees to engage them and enhance their employability.

According to the ministry, the SDP, launched on October 4, 2021, provided training to 288 candidates from technical training institutes (TTIs) or Institute of Zorig Chusums (IZCs), and other public institutes.

Currently, a total of 427 candidates are undergoing training in TTIs or IZCs and other public institutes.

As of March 15, 2022, the Ministry had announced 32 skills training courses and 982 candidates were expected to enroll. The SDP aims to provide skills to 5,000 Bhutanese job seekers over the year.

Similarly, the ministry trained 1,411 individuals across the country as of March 2022 in entrepreneurship. It provides entrepreneurship support to the individuals interested in setting up their own small businesses through entrepreneurship training and events.

Since the inception of BBP in July 2020, 943 youths were placed in the construction sector. The BBP is aimed at mitigating the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic on the construction sector and addressing the shortage of foreign workers.

Additionally, a total of 38 specialised firms have been established that have employed 413 participants under the support from BBP, according to the ministry.

As of December 2019, a total of 82,271 foreign workers were employed in various economic sectors (96.2 percent in construction). However, the number drastically dropped to 16,417 in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Under the YELP, the ministry facilitated support to 689 participants in fiscal year (FY) 2021-22.

YELP is a scheme that provides wage subsidy support for the engagement of job seekers in the non-civil service sectors and on-the-job skills and work experience required to enhance their employability.

The ministry also facilitated referral of jobseekers for employment to various agencies in various positions through the GOWA platform.

In the FY 2020-21, a total of 1,219 job seekers were employed; in 2021-22 a total of 703 job seekers were employed, according to the ministry.

The ministry is planning to roll out the GOWA programme in the dzongkhags coordinated by the regional officers.

The Ministry also carried out targeted programmes for those who were laid off from the Mountain Hazelnuts Venture (127) and the Drayangs (502).

Out of 629 candidates, 63 percent were interested in skilling under SDP, 17 percent in entrepreneurship training, and 12 percent in direct engagement or placement in available vacancies, according to the ministry.

Lyonpo said youths would also be prepared towards future jobs through creation of digital economy. The ministry recorded 6,459 unemployed youths as of November 2021.