The country’s education system, including vocational education, is set for a major overhaul. This will be supported by a plan to invest Nu 10 billion in the education sector.

If budget was the excuse for  not driving changes, the ambitious 13th Plan has the solution. Key institutions are identified to lead the transformation. If, like we say, well begun is half done, we are on the right path having recognised the needs and securing funds. The way ahead is clearer.  

If nearly 70,000 youth are expected to transition from the education and training system into the workforce during the 13th Plan period, we need to equip them with the right skills. In other words, preparing our youth for the opportunities, the country will open to them. Unfortunately, it will not all be desk jobs in the civil service. The needs are already there. What we failed to do is to equip youth with the right skills.

This need and priority is also considered with the Plan focusing on equipping youth with skills necessary for successful integration into the 21st-century labour market. What is notable is the recognition, if not finally agreeing that the tertiary education and the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) system needing a comprehensive overhaul.

Vocational education was long recognised as a priority to create employment if not to replace the increasing expatriate workers. What has happened is there for all to see in all the sectors. While we have trained thousands of youth in, for instance, repairing vehicles, we still look for and trust the Indian “Guruji” (head mechanic). The ex pat mistri, or the bijili babu (electrician) cannot be replaced even if labour rules mandates it. 

Skilling or upskilling our people, young and old, seems to be the way forward. Fortunately, our planners have admitted that the tertiary education system still requires extensive restructuring and programme diversification to meet international standards and align with the demands of key economic sectors.

The potentials are there as we aspire for a developed economy. The potentials are unlimited in all  sectors  – manufacturing, energy, environment, agriculture, mining, construction, tourism, digital and creative industries, finance, and social services such as health, and education.

What could bring real change is the recognition of establishing state-of-the-art infrastructure, enhancing the professional capabilities of faculty, and restructuring, upgrading, and diversifying training programmes to meet market demands.

If we are thinking employability of graduates of technical training institutes, what they are taught should be relevant to the real world. Learning mechanical skills, for instance, on an old, discarded vehicle from the 1908s and  presented with a 2024 electric car malfunction will be irrelevant. 

Vocational skills, as many are realising, are more important than mere academic qualification. Bhutanese who could operate heavy earth-moving machinery , are earning more than those with Master’s Degrees, for instance, in Australia.  A lot could be achieved if we can value  skills over academic performances.