The vexing issue of high youth unemployment in rural areas 

The unemployment issue, which emerged in early 2000, is seen as one of the major challenges facing Bhutan.

As per the Labour Force Survey 2014, the national unemployment rate is estimated at 2.6 percent, which is low compared to South Asian countries. However, the youth unemployment rate at 9.4 percent is a matter of concern. The total estimated youth population is 19.2 percent of the total estimated population. Of the total estimated youth population, 52.6 percent are female and 47.4 percent are male.

Research studies have found the unemployment among youth is more prevalent in female in urban areas with a certain level of education. The Unemployed Youth Perception Survey 2014 reported that 57.4 percent of the surveyed unemployed youth were seeking work for more than a year.

It found that the unemployment issue has risen mainly due to job seeker aspiring for desk jobs and preference in the public sector, where jobs are almost saturated. On the other hand, there are around 45,000 expatriate workers in the country as of December 2014, as per the Labour Net System.

Of the total 3680 unemployed youth in 2014, 82.6 percent comprises of youth of the age (20-24) and the remaining 17.4 percent belong to the age cohort, 15-19. The youth unemployment phenomenon is existent more in the urban (57.5%) areas than the rural (42.5%).

However, as per study, the rural unemployment is seasonal in nature, whereas the urban unemployment arises because of educated lots seeking regular employment. Therefore, youth who are unemployed in the urban areas of Bhutan are of major concern to the country.

As per the Unemployed Youth Perception Survey 2014, majority of job seekers (57%) said they had been seeking work for more than a year, while 27 percent were unemployed for between six months and a year.

As per the survey, the dzongkhag with highest unemployment rate is Thimphu with total of about 3,818 unemployed youth among 9,174, where maximum number of youth has been in search of jobs for minimum of 6 month. Due to such reasons, it is seen that most of the unemployed rural youth are migrating to urban areas in search of jobs, and has subsequent impact on youth, family and society at large.

During a recent national consultative workshop on the review of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Blueprint, Lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Chenpo said that the youth unemployment problem has been exacerbated by rapid socio-economic growth and development over the last five and half decades.

He said the change process has seen the emergence of a number of problems including human resources shortage in critical sectors.  “One of the main hindrances in the private sector development has been the shortage of skilled human resources. Developing indigenous human resources has become a priority development objective.”

He also pointed out that there has been a prolonged problem of skills gap between demand and supply of human resources.

Lyonpo said that having achieved significant improvement in the country’s basic education system, the government’s emphasis must now gradually shift towards preparing the youth for the world of work.

“The acute shortage of locally trained workers at all skill levels and the heavy reliance on foreign workers against the face of increasing youth unemployment has been a major government concern,” he added.

NC (Samtse) Sangay Khandu said youth unemployment and migration to urban areas gives rise to many problems, such as housing constraints and rising crime rate.

He pointed out that parents or families who are left behind in the villages have a hard time maintaining their farms due to a shortage of farm hands, which ultimately leads to selling of domestic farm animals and fallow land.

He also said that employment opportunities should shift towards the agriculture sector by mechanizing farms and training the youth on using the machineries. He said the traditional way of farming is difficult for the youth to cope with due to the lack of experience.

Gup (Samtse-Norbugang Gewog) KingaWangdi said that a majority of the population in his gewog is being dominated by unemployed youth graduating each year and failing to get a job in Thimphu. He said, “Since there is an increasing number of youth, we now decided to involve our youth in an ice beverage project by Yangphel, and provide our youth with a job according to their qualification in this organization.”

Gup (Punakha,Shelga Gewog) Samten Phuntsho said, “Most of the youth are opting for jobs despite knowing the challenges of leaving behind plenty of farm land unattended, which is also a source of huge income.” He said that the youth need to be educated on the importance of agriculture as it is a major backbone of the economy and much better than any white collar job.

Gup (Nganglam) Ugyen Tenzin said, “Some lands are left fallow and unproductive as people are settling in urban areas. Most people believe that urban life is more fancy compared to rural area.”

However, some job seekers who cannot find jobs in urban areas are going back to their farms. One such person is Kinley Wangdi from Limbukha Gewog, Punakha. He graduated from Motithang Higher Secondary School in 2009, and was on the job hunt for more than 3 years.

He did not qualify for tertiary education and his parents, who are retired on their farm in Punakha, could not afford to support him financially. Eldest of four siblings, Kinley desperately searched for a job in Thimphu. He said, “It was too difficult to meet the expectation of my parents and fulfill my own dream. At times, I had to bear with certain stigmas.”

After a year of job hunting, he found jobs in two private companies. He survived hand-to -mouth due to huge travel and house rent expenditure. “Back in my village with all my siblings in school, my parents having no experience in field and farm work were suffering due to lack of man force, so I decided to leave my job and help my parents. I hope do farming business in the near future.”

23-year-old Sujata Gurung from Dhamdara, Chukhha graduated from Sikkim Manipal University in 2014. She is the youngest of three children in her family. After graduating, she dreamed of securing a government job and sat for the Royal Civil Service Commission examination, which she did not qualify for. She returned back to her village after not finding a job in Thimphu.

“People in the village have the least knowledge about the unemployment issues. They would talk to my parents and mock me about my situation saying I am lying idle in village after having completed a college degree, which traumatizes me emotionally,” she said.

However, Sujata is back in Thimphu in search of a job. Meanwhile, she is working as a marketing intern in one of the private firms. And there are many like Sujata who wish to find jobs and settle in urban areas like Thimphu.

This article was made possible due to support from the Department of Information and Media

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