Promoting Vocational Training in Bhutan

Article | 16 November 2010

Expanded vocational training fills a yawning gap in indigenous skills, so that vulnerable people can earn the expertise to keep pace with Bhutan's fast-growing economy

Trashigang, Bhutan - Chimi Yuden does not mind getting her hands dirty. The 19-year-old from the eastern Bhutanese city of Trashigang spent 8 months in an auto-repair training course in the capital city of Thimphu after identifying a career opportunity.

"There are more vehicles on the roads now," she said. "This is a good career for the future." When she graduates and returns to Trashigang, she will be the city's first female auto mechanic. She said many of her classmates work on the farms or are homemakers, but she is proud to have taken a different path. "This is a chance to earn more than I could on the farm," she said.

Giving Workers a Tune-Up

Yuden benefited from the ADB-supported Basic Skills Development Project, which champions vocational training programs in Bhutan. The Thimphu Institute of Automobile Engineering (TIAE) was established in August 2007, along with five other vocational training institutes under the project. As a result of the project, vocational training capacity in Bhutan has increased from 400 to 1,193 students. TIAE not only teaches new mechanics but also serves as an example for other auto shops. Since 1981, Bhutan has diversified from traditional subsistence to a modern market economy, but the skills of its workers have been unable to keep up with the robust pace of growth.

"Now, Bhutan is dependent on skilled technical people from other countries," said Tshewang Norbu, from the Ministry of Finance. "Most auto mechanic jobs are filled by other nationalities. We need these skills to be developed in Bhutan by Bhutanese."

The course is designed to upgrade the standard of repair and working conditions in auto shops. The 25 students in the automobile engineering program will bring international standards to the repair shops where they work.

"The acute shortage of trained personnel at all skill levels has continuously been a major impediment to the national development in Bhutan," said ADB principal evaluation specialist Yasushi Hirosato. "Developing indigenous human resources to improve the efficiency and productivity of public and private agencies is the long-range development objective."

Putting the Workforce Behind the Wheel

As Bhutan's economy develops, significant growth in employment, particularly in construction, manufacturing, and business services follows. However, according to the project completion report (2010), the education system, and specifically the technical and vocational education system, could not meet labor demand despite the increasing number of educated youths that entered the labor market, because most of them lacked the necessary skills.

The magnitude of the potential job opportunities for Bhutanese workers is apparent. On the other hand, if the pace of economic growth and industrialization continues without the participation of educated Bhutanese in the workforce, the country will face a major problem. Urban unemployment is already increasing, so developing employable skills is a national priority. However, the country still lacks adequate vocational training, a labor administration system for private sector employment, and an effective labor market monitoring system. A lack of reliable statistics also makes it difficult to assess the domestic labor market.

The Rural Development Skills Project (RSDP), a grant-funded project of almost $2 million funded through the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, helps rural Bhutanese to develop their income-generating skills, complementing the Basic Skills Development Project.

The RSDP has thus far provided basic skills training to a total of 681 villagers in three rural districts. During off-farm seasons, the program teaches people basic modern trades such as carpentry, electrical wiring, masonry, plumbing, and hairdressing.

"The new skills developed under the project will not only provide the villagers means to earn income during off-farm seasons, it could also save them house repair costs," said Hiroyuki Ikemoto, an ADB economist and team leader for the project.

The Value to the Village

RSDP has also taught a number of master trainers and business trainers, produced educational curriculums and manuals, and will teach over 1,200 villagers by the end of its 4-year period.

Graduates will be registered in a database that will be available to relevant government offices, to enhance trainee recruitment. Villages will also benefit from the program, as on-the-job training will include the construction of public toilets and hostels for schoolchildren.

The project has provided vocational education and training for new graduates, unemployed youth, domestic laborers, women, and the rural poor, reinforcing Bhutan's efforts to develop local technical skills.

Back in Thimphu, Yangchen, a 21-year-old student from the eastern town of Pema Gatshel is working hard. Her four brothers are proud she has enrolled in the auto-repair training course, she said. She dreams of returning to Pema Gatshel to open her own repair shop. "This is a valuable skill in my village," she said.