For a skilled workforce

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.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    The post has reminded me the ‘engine drivers’ of the last era. And the words referred to the drivers of the railway locomotives where steam was still the major source of energy in propulsion engineering of that era. Time has truly changed and so has been the way we like to define jobs and works. But the word ’employment’ has also become a truly economic term dealing with an individual’s social insecurities.

    There was a time when even during a highly technical course like a graduation in engineering they would make you attend the laboratories to learn anything from carpentry to welding to electrical wiring. It was a part of the syllabus then, and may be that students still learn it today. But you can’t expect engineering graduates to perform tasks that involve such required skills in a job profile matching their qualifications. The reality is that today’s high profile jobs don’t demand use of low profile tools anymore and hence, we are always needing skill upgrades. And that’s a natural part of everyone’s career planning today.

    Yes that we all prefer a desk job today and not all can get one easily. The competition is changing fast and so is the set of required skills with handling tools at today’s workplaces. But even in a purely desk job, we are no more creating original work related literature whether we are holding that pen or have a digital interface terminal to operate. There is nothing much to differentiate a technical from non-technical job profile even if involved work literature is more about clerical in nature. ‘Administration’ itself is the appropriate ‘adjective’ form in today’s employment culture ahead of the usual ‘administrative’ types.

    But there are jobs to be done and unemployed youths waiting to be employed. When we can’t expect everyone to get a degree level education in technical courses, the vocational education and training process and certification system has an important role to play in shaping employment issues. And still, we can’t expect even this to become just another administrative process and procedure only. In that case, the employers have to depend on the process of ‘on job training’ one more time. In other words, even passed out of the vocational education and training institutes will find it difficult to be employed especially in the private sector.

    So if we have a ‘blueprint’ in the pipeline regarding government’s plan to upgrade the vocational education and training system, there is probably a need to even include on job training requirements. And there are always scopes for changes even in our school curriculum where all students can be taught the practical sides of the text book knowledge and education. But we always need to be rightly employed in our brains and minds as learning is a continuous process in any job profile.

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