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The employment scenario in the country appears to be skewed at best with official unemployment figures indicating that we have nothing to worry about while ground realities just happen to say the otherwise.

Today, the government boasts of reducing the unemployment rate of the country down to 2.1%, a year ahead of its target to reduce the rate to 2.5% by 2013. Figuratively speaking, the Labour Force Survey Report 2012 puts the total labor force of the country at 336,391. The labor ministry claims that 329,487 are already employed putting only 6,904 people in the unemployed category and hence the low unemployment rate of 2.1%. But the youth unemployment rate stands at a contrast high of 7.3%.

It is interesting to note that of the total labor force in the country, only 25% are employed in the civil service and the security forces and the remaining bulk of 75% are in the private and the corporate sectors, NGOs, and in the agriculture sector. A major problem accentuating youth unemployment is the age-old preference of our young people to join the civil service which has only limited jobs on offer compared to other sectors. Aggravating the situation is the increasing trend of rural to urban migration which brings in hordes of illiterate villagers to towns looking for jobs.

In the recent years, the number of job seekers has been increasing almost exponentially. This year, the labor ministry predicts about 20,000 to enter the job market and next year about 22,000 will join the race. In the next five years, about 140,000 jobs, which is 20% of the current population figure, have to be created to tame the unemployment problem.

Last week, the labor ministry announced the availability of more than 2,000 jobs in the market but the same week, we saw 58 young people losing jobs from a BPO located at the TechPark in Thimphu because these young people were not competent enough for the job. The same week, a newspaper reported that about 450 people, mostly youth, may lose their job if an FDI company, G4S Secure Solutions Private Limited, closes down which is most likely because the central bank had not allowed the company to repatriate dividends in foreign currency to its foreign partner. 

It is noteworthy that the 58 young people who lost their jobs at the BPO did not apparently possess the skills to work in a BPO. It comes in the background of the Bhutanese people taking pride as good English speakers. There is definitely a void of the required skills to adapt to new market realities.

Moreover, despite the best efforts of the government to encourage blue collar jobs, there have been few takers. Even the establishment of vocational institutes has not been able to bridge this crucial gap. At the same time, it is interesting to note that Bhutanese going to developed countries like Australia are mostly engaged in smalltime manual jobs to make money. This tells us that the problem with small jobs is not about the societal stigma attached to it but it may simply be the remuneration aspects of it.

The labor minister has consistently been reminding the country in every public meeting that the unemployment issue, particularly youth unemployment, will continue to be the biggest challenge for the government in the coming decade and rightly so.