There is a lot of focus on improving our technical and vocational education in the country. A blueprint to make the field attractive is readied and will be submitted to the Cabinet soon.

This is a welcome development. It has become a cliché to say that the severe unemployment problem in the country is down to the mismatch in skills and jobs available. Jobs here largely means in the technical or vocational field, also known today as “blue collar jobs”.

There is a good amount of truth in it as there are no skilled people or those trained are not willing to take up these jobs. The attitude has not changed much. Every parent want their children to be a civil servant or a work on a “table,” meaning office job.

The blueprint focuses on producing trained and competent workers. Measure will be put in place to ensure parity of esteem between those graduating from tertiary institution and vocational centres.  Association of technical and vocational education providers will be formed and the labour ministry will ensure that these graduates are paid in commensurate to their national qualification levels determined through the national minimum wage or salary for skilled workers.

These are positive developments and we should see more students finishing high school join these institutes. It is a stark reality that not every student will become a university graduate. This is the right time to provide them opportunity to earn a decent living even without a university degree.

The reality is there is a dearth of people with much needed skills. The reality is that our tertiary institutions are overwhelmed and there is only so much the government schools can take in. Many cannot afford private schools. An improved image of vocational and technical training institutes coupled with good remunerations and high possibility of landing a job will ease the pressure.

The reality is that higher education is not going to solve the mismatch or fill the thousands of jobs now held by expatriates, mostly skilled and semi skilled. It is trained plumbers, electricians, mason or mechanics that will solve the mismatch.

However, it is encouraging that vocational training is receiving priority, even if it is late. The construction industry is complaining of restriction on imported labour. There is opportunity and money in the construction sector. Young Bhutanese jobseekers are not being able to avail the opportunity.

On the other hand, those in the construction sector are at the whims of the hired hands from across the border, most of whom have honed their skill working as labourers. It costs Nu 500 to fix a broken window, about an hour’s job, today. Why can’t a Bhutanese do it?

The benefit of having a skilled group of Bhutanese is beyond just solving the unemployment problem. Beyond focusing on training, the responsibility should not lie solely with the labour ministry.

With support and recognition they could become employers. Tax incentives and subsidies should not restrict training institutes. It should go to graduates who are ready to form small companies.