Yangyel Lhaden

At the age of 21, fresh out of college, he took a shot at the Bhutan Civil Service Examinations, but success eluded him. Despite earnest efforts to find employment, securing a job remained a daunting task. As months turned into years, unemployment loomed large, and mounting familial pressure forced him to make a difficult decision—he gave a serious thought to his parents’ advice and embarked on a journey to Australia.

“I did not want to go abroad,” the now 26-year-old said. “But I was jobless for more than four years after graduation, and I had no other choice than coming to Australia.” He expressed a longing to return someday, yearning for opportunities back home.

The predicament faced by this young individual is not an isolated case. The youth unemployment rate in 2022 reached 28.6 percent, surging from 20.9 percent in the previous year, according to the Labour Force Survey Report (LFSR) of 2022. Among the 101,170 young population, a staggering 8,496 youth were actively seeking work without success.

Chimi Wangmo, a 23-year-old youth, also sought her fortunes abroad and left for Australia last year. Despite actively pursuing jobs, responding to newspaper advertisements, and attending numerous interviews, securing employment remained elusive for her.

“If I hadn’t been involved with de-suung, I would have departed long ago,” Chimi Wangmo said. She attributed her departure to the dearth of opportunities back home rather than a quest for better prospects abroad.

The civil service, the traditional route for stable employment, is grappling with limited opportunities. The private sector absorbs a significant number of youths, leading to concerns about pay disparities between government and other sectors.

As of July, the civil service employed just over 1,000 youth, while 90 youth left during the same period. With 1,772 youth registering for BCSE 2023, the Royal Civil Service Commission has announced 1,126 vacancies, an increase of 460 slots compared to the previous year.

Chimi Wangmo said that there was limited opportunity to land a job in the civil service. “Many young people would leave if corporate and private sectors cannot increase salaries. The civil servant pay raise is increasing the pay gap between government and other sectors.”

The data from LFSR 2022 shows that only 15 percent of the employed youth find employment in government agencies, while private businesses and private limited companies employ 31.6 percent of the total employed individuals. Such statistics reveal that the government sector has only about 11 percent of total youth employees as of July. There were 29,141 total employees with civil service in July.

Dechen Yangzom Dema, a 22-year-old who returned to Bhutan with high hopes in 2019 after living in Australia for five years, faced challenges in establishing a business due to various obstacles and lack of support. Disheartened, she eventually returned to Australia.

She emphasised the need for a minimum salary of Nu 30,000 per month to meet the cost of living in Bhutan and maintain a reasonable standard of living. “The system is very unsupportive and there is no accountability.”

”I shouldn’t have to work just to survive. If I can’t improve my lifestyle and have to live hand-to-mouth every month, why would I keep working? There is zero motivation,” Dechen said.

The struggle to find suitable employment also affects recent graduates, with some exploring opportunities abroad. A 23-year-old hotel management graduate shared her plans to pursue a visa to Australia, where she anticipates higher wages for a job similar to what she could find in Bhutan.

She said that five-star-hotels in the country pay only about  Nu 8,000 basic salary to graduates like her and service charge is higher only during tourist season.

“I graduated during the pandemic and there was no placement or internship opportunity in the country,” she said. “ All my friends have already left.”

Such stories of young Bhutanese seeking greener pastures overseas reflect the challenges of retaining talent and addressing the brain drain concerns facing the nation.