Making hay while the sun shines 

The demographic statistics, the National Statistics Bureau released, is a big opportunity for governments, present and future, to tap the potential resulting from the shifts in the population’s age structure.

There is a huge group of youth, the potential workforce in the right age group, available.  It is an opportunity to reap the demographic dividend.

Time is limited. The window of opportunity is not big. We have 22 years before the demography changes with an increasing number of dependents projected.

It is an opportunity we cannot lose.

The only condition is that the government will have to make the most of the potential workforce. Jobs have to be created to let this potential group propel economic growth. To be precise, NSB analysis says that an average of 8,000 jobs have to be created every year.

This is an uphill task for the government that is already reeling under the pressure of creating jobs. One problem that is evident is the inability to create jobs. No government, even after being elected on the promise of creating jobs, has been able to absorb the growing number of job seekers.

For a country that is witnessing gradual changes in the demographic structure, policies have to be in place. The change in demographic is not new. Many countries have experienced it and made the most of it.

Japan was among the first countries to experience rapid growth because of the changing population structure. Japan’s economy grew in double digits in the first 10 years. This is because they made the most of the growing labour force.

Can we do it?

Going by the rate of unemployment, especially youth unemployment which is hovering around 15 percent, there is scope. The question is how do we create jobs, what kind of jobs and where to create jobs.

Statistics provide governments with a good basis to formulate their plans and policies.  If a government is looking beyond their term, the statistics are clear where to prioritise.

One of the biggest ironies is the shortage of manpower and lack of jobs.  We have thousands of job seekers and at the same time, the government and other institutions are short of manpower. The mismatch of jobs and skills has become a cliché, yet not much is being done to match jobs to skills.

Statisticians are recommending investing in human resources to reap the benefit of the demographic transition. They are also recommending regional hubs to diversify equitable population distribution. Governments rely on statistics to make policy decisions.  The stats are clear and there are recommendations. How serious a government takes the findings is left to the government of the day.

But we know that the irony of unemployed or potentially unemployed youth and a simultaneous manpower shortage spells a serious shortcoming in planning and coordination.

We have areas where we need people and people not willing to take available jobs. Today, the tone of some of the job applications sounded more like a plea for kidu than job applications. A related problem is that unsuccessful candidates do not return to their villages but remain in Thimphu.

How we resolve these issues will help in reaping the advantage we are offered with.

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