Square pegs in a round hole

The season of the graduate orientation programme is upon us again, and along with it comes the usual issues papers bring up. One thing that comes to mind, seeing the multitude of fresh young faces ready to make the jump from education to employment, is the ever-present unemployment problem.
It is ironic that we should have a problem of unemployment in a country with population less than seven hundred thousand. A country that cannot even meet its own food and products requirement. A country where, some say, the population is too small to meet the labour force requirement.
There is a word that is used to define the capacity of its people. It is called ‘human capital’. Human capital is the stock of skills and knowledge embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value. Looking at the ever widening unemployment, and then at the severe shortage of human resources, we can only wonder if our ‘human capital’ is under severe need of repair.
Businessmen say that the vocational graduates in Bhutan are not trained in the fields that they are in need of. A major problem that businesses have in Bhutan is the severe shortage of human resource. So we were told.
And yet, our rate of unemployment keeps shooting through the roof.
Whatever the case, unemployment is no longer the problem of a single ministry. It has been a problem for too long, and we have been simply scraping the surface of a much deeper issue all this time.
It is about time we decided to tackle this problem once and for all, because, obviously, solving this problem is about making the pieces fit.
It’s not only up to the labour ministry to tackle this problem, even though as the designated ministry, it is the mandate of this ministry to address both the problem of unemployment and human resource shortage.
The education ministry and education and training sector would be pivotal in playing a role, making sure that children are learning things that are necessary, important, and apt. Our country lacks skilled professionals; we lack trained staff in the hospitality, health, education, and some of the other most important sectors.
The agriculture sector, which could use educated people, who produce enough for us to be self sufficient at least in the fresh food department.
Our laws concerning foreign labourers seem a little irrational, given that they try to protect Bhutanese workers who do not exist. The regulations seem to emanate from a concern that there are unemployed Bhutanese, but then, the employers say that finding Bhutanese to work for them is impossible.
So, is our problem really that we don’t have enough jobs in the country? Not really, since we also have the ‘lack of human resource’ problem.
We have jobs, but we do not have the right people for those jobs. And we have people, but we don’t have the right jobs for the people. It is only a matter of fitting round pegs in round holes, and square pegs in square holes.
Sorting out this booming problem is not such an easy matter. We need to rethink our core policies, we need to re-examine every one that may be having a negative impact.
The right education, the right training, the right attitude, the right incentives, there is the thin middle path that we need to discover here.

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