Education alone can’t deliver jobs

I am not sure whether we call manual jobs in the construction sector ‘skilled or highly specialised’ or ‘unskilled’. Here it is called skilled, elsewhere we call it ‘unskilled’. This designation seems to change depending on what we would like to convey. It is true that we have lots of workers from India – largely in the construction sector, and policy makers and lots of people clamouring that these are jobs Bhutanese can and should fill in, in my view, are looking at a short This term sector fix. will, most likely, in the next decade

will solely be focused on hydro and maintaining the current infrastructure stock- requiring lesser number of people. These roles are also susceptible to substitution by machines / equipment when cost economics catches up. Training or encouraging young people to train for a sector that is likely to decline is not a wise decision. The key policy and strategic decision for Bhutan is to understand what our long term economic vision is and then align the education system and the training schemes to deliver those.

The role of an education system is to ensure students appreciate and develop interests in sciences, literature, history, politics, environment and, are better equipped with skills like reading and comprehension, effective writing and communications, and critical thinking and reasoning skills. Such knowledge and skills are required whether one starts a company or works for another company. Our education system needs to improve in delivering these basic skills.

However, only a few specialised courses like medicine, engineering and certain vocational / technical training provide skills (often referred to as ones sought by employers) that an employer can directly use. Therefore, all of us (the Government, NGOs, private sector) hugely misunderstand that Education should deliver students with all the skills ready for employment, propagating the narrative that the Bhutanese students are not suitable for employment for lack of skills.

It is time that we change this narrative and recognise and appreciate that education, to some extent, can only provide knowledge but much of the skills (for a particular job) are generally learnt on the job. This is the reason why many companies elsewhere recruit ‹students› who show promise through academic results and activities at school and universities and then train then within the company. Most companies run training programmes (up to two years) designed to impart the required skills.

The sooner all of us realises this, the easier it will be for us to address this problem of employability and unemployment. The problem of unemployment is not solely the Government›s or education›s role — it is about all the parties taking a joint ownership and working together. The Government has an important role to play – helping the private sector set up training programmes on risk / cost sharing basis. There will be NGOs and even technical assistance willing to help set up such a structure. BCCI is also crucial in moving the private sector in this direction.

Dorji Wangchuk

The writer is an academic based in London

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