The Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) in 2017 revealed that the unemployment in Bhutan had reached a historic low of 2 percent in 2017 (March to April) compared to 2.7 percent in 2012.
For most business owners in the private sector this would not be news given the increasing difficulty to get youth to respond to job vacancies. The private sector by far is Bhutan’s largest employer after the agricultural sector.
It was only a few years ago that even a driver vacancy advertisement would see around a dozen youth applying but these days getting even two to three to apply is challenging and that too after advertising the vacancy over and over again.
Once they get the job, even with competitive pay and comfortable working conditions, they do not stay for long, either moving to other higher paying jobs or starting something on their own.
Similarly, many private companies are struggling to get enough competitive candidates for even officer level vacancies like accountants, marketing officers etc.
Here again, even those who join do not stay for long and move on to better prospects.
There has been a tectonic shift in the job market in the last few years even though the familiar old refrains of youth unemployment are repeated like a mantra without looking at the ground realities.
As owners of many small businesses will tell any researcher, there are not that much people looking for jobs and many of them don’t want the jobs on offer as they have better options.
A big difference has been made by the Ministry of Labour whose Guaranteed Employment Scheme (GES) has gotten 12,700 youth employed in the last five years. Such a large number of youth going off the job market makes a huge impact in a country with a population of around 700,000.
Apart from this, another big development has been the economy growing at around eight percent in 2017 compared to 2.1 percent in 2013 which has meant more job opportunities in many sectors.
An increasing trend has been noticed in the rise of many entrepreneurs young and old who are making use of the REDCL loans or the Priority Sector Lending collateral and low interest loans to take up small businesses and commercial agriculture.
There are also large numbers going abroad either through the Labour Ministry or on their own.
It is time that Bhutan now starts looking at the other extreme possibility which is the impact of such a low unemployment rate.
Very high unemployment is not good and neither is a very low one which may lead to labour shortage, higher business costs and lower productivity.
Anyhow, it is time to start recognizing the trends at the ground level and come up with appropriate measures.
“Funny thing, employment. If you keep doing it, you keep getting paid.”