An eight-point plan is proposed to complement existing initiatives and policies

Labour: A recent study has revealed that a majority of youth, despite having college degrees, including a master’s degree, can spend more than a year unemployed.

The study, conducted by the labour ministry and the UNDP, to find the perceptions of unemployed youth, found that almost 42 percent of 1,128 youth surveyed had been looking for a job for more than a year, and had either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  A further 41 percent had finished class XII.

The survey sample included 631 females and 497 males in April last year.

Twenty seven percent had been looking for a job for between six months and a year.  Seventy five percent of them had either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

The study says that this suggests a low absorptive capacity for educated labour in the market.

“The long term nature of unemployment among a significant portion of the sampled population was a particularly worrying trend,” it pointed out.  It was added that this also suggests that educated youth face a time lag between completing education and securing a job.

The study pointed out that around 78 percent of the degree holders graduated with a general degree, as opposed to a technical degree, and that their unemployment was because either the skills they pick up are not required by employers or there is over supply.

But the study also says that more research is required to determine if the lack of technical graduates is due to a perception that such courses are harder, or the fact that the Bhutanese economy’s capacity to absorb large numbers of skilled labour is weak.

The study also found that most youth, who choose to go for further studies, go to India, with Tamil Nadu and West Bengal being the top choices.  Only 40 percent chose to obtain a bachelor’s in Bhutan, while 1.5 percent chose a country other than India.

Of those surveyed, 56 percent had skills based or vocational training, but 10 percent of them were trained for less than a month.  Forty four percent trained for one to six months, 18 percent for six months to a year, 16 percent for one to two years, and 12 percent for more than two years.  The most common training pursued was for IT and computer applications, followed by commercial accounting.

The study says that there is a clear need to reconsider and align the skills needed in the current job market with training programmes.  It adds that this shows that the market requires a mix of skills, which is not being provided through the current education system.

In the medium to long term, the study says it is imperative that the vocational training curriculum be strengthened, and that additional investments be made in trainings aimed towards alternative sectors like eco-tourism, IT, sustainable infrastructure, among others.

For the short term, creative and innovative ways will have to be found to engage educated youth to ensure a generation is not lost.  Strong incentives to pull them towards forms of employment, including volunteerism, could provide on-the-job experience that leads to paid employment.

The study says there is a deficiency in the skills trainings that are currently offered, and more collaboration between public and private entities to create a more relevant curriculum is needed.

It also says questions on whether the education curriculum is preparing youth for available jobs, and role of guidance counsellors in schools and universities, among others, require addressing.

The study also looked at what how much pay unemployed youth expected.  Around 40 percent expected between Nu 10,000-15,000 and 20 percent in excess of Nu 15,000.  Males were more likely to expect salaries in excess of Nu 15,000.

The overwhelming majority of youth (77 percent) still prefer desk jobs, and associate poor working conditions, low salary and low social status with blue-collar jobs.  More than 80 percent prefer a government or public-corporate sector job.  The most preferred sectors are finance, education, tourism and hospitality, and hydropower.

Only 3.5 percent chose construction as their preferred field.  The study says this is because it is associated with low status and the working environment is dangerous.  The study suggests that Bhutan follow the example of other countries, like the United States, South Korea or Japan, where the construction worker is well paid, respected and great lengths are taken to ensure personal safety.

The study also recommends that, for youth to gain hands-on experience of industries, apprenticeships, internships and volunteer activities be introduced in secondary and post secondary education.

The study concludes with an eight-point plan that can complement existing initiatives and policies.  It is recommended that greater collaboration between public and private entities is needed to drive growth and create jobs, and that innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit be integrated within education and training curricula.  Other recommendations include the need to expand the role of ICT in connecting youth and employers, need for both urban and rural solutions and evidence and data collection to drive forward thinking polices, among others.

Youth unemployment stood at 2.9 percent in 2013, low by international standards, however, unemployment among those aged between 15-24 was at 9.6 percent.

By Gyalsten K Dorji


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