The jobless issue

The government is making good strides on the unemployment front. At least that is what we can say so going by the recent Bhutan Living Standards Survey (BLSS) Report 2017 that was launched last week.

The national unemployment rate in 2017 is estimated at 2% compared to 2.7% in 2012, according to the report. The figure stood at 2.6% in 2014. So the figure plummeting evening by 0.7 percent is an assuring indication.

The possibility of such an outcome may also be acknowledged to the new initiatives that the government has undertaken to address the unemployment issue in the country. Initiatives such as Guaranteed Employment Programs and Overseas Employment Scheme have certainly helped to get jobs for some of our unemployed youth, at least for now.

There is no denying the fact that such measures are short term, but it’s also an indication that the government is doing something. The mere acknowledgment that youth unemployment is a major concern is a good beginning in itself. We also need to stop comparing unemployment scenario in Bhutan with other countries and stop saying, “It isn’t that bad, here!”

Another ostensible trend as per the report is that unemployment is becoming an urban phenomenon with unemployment rate of 4.6% compared to only 0.8% in rural areas. This is only likely to increase as more jobseekers flock to urban towns looking for jobs. And this is also like to increase the problems that we continue to grapple with because of rural-urban migration. Our urban towns are already showing signs of urban poverty today.

And even if unemployment figures are ostensibly assuring, many a time, it’s not the depiction of the real situation of the job market. Sometimes, it is just the contrary. Unemployment among young adults is increasingly becoming a serious issue. Finding jobs is becoming difficult in all areas and it will only get worse with the increasing jobseekers who graduate from colleges and universities each year.

So where do we put them? How do we absorb over 3,500 graduates when there are just around 500 jobs in the civil service? Government jobs are the most sought after, but we need to understand that it’s not the role of the government to give jobs. The government is not there to give jobs.

However, the government should instead create enabling conditions and come up with policy reforms and interventions that allow the corporate and private sectors to grow so that they can play an increasingly important role in fostering economic growth and employment creation. The private sector has been envisioned as an engine of growth since we embarked on the path to development, but it’s still in its infancy.

The private sector is also inflicted with problems of all sorts – doing businesses is not easy, bureaucratic rigmarole and access to finance and credit, and the huge interest rates and collaterals have stunted its growth. This is where the government can intervene and create enabling conditions.