Explaining our absence

Captive audience

I got back yesterday. My tour to the eastern and central parts of our country was quick yet fruitful. So the first thing I did today was to visit Dechenphug Lhakhang, my favorite monastery. I went there to thank Ap Gengye, one of our foremost guardian deities, for granting us protection and safety during the tour.

In Dechenphug, I met several groups of recent graduates. They had attended the recent National Graduate Orientation Program, and, as they prepared to enter the real world of work, most of them were still weighing their options.

They could sit for the Royal Civil Service Commission’s “common examinations” and compete for civil service jobs. Or they could seek employment in government owned corporations immediately, thereby preempting competition from fellow graduates who wouldn’t make it through the common exams. Or they could join the private sector.

The graduates had to make important decisions. So they had converged in Dechenphug to seek Ap Gengye’s support and guidance.

I stopped to speak with some of the graduates. I asked them what they had studied, where they had studied, and where they planned to work.

They asked me why the opposition party didn’t have a session at the National Graduate Orientation Program. They told me that it would have been relevant for the graduates to meet the members of the opposition party.  And they added that that’s what they had indicated in their feedback form.

I said that I agreed with them – the opposition party really should have met the graduates to congratulate them and to wish them luck in their careers, but also to explain the roles and responsibilities, and priorities of the opposition. But, I explained that we had not been given that opportunity.

I explained that the government had not allowed us to participate in any of the past NGOPs. I explained that, this year, I had written officially to the labour minister requesting him to grant a session for the opposition party to meet the graduates. And I explained that the labour minister had written back saying that it wouldn’t be possible to accommodate our request.

The upshot of this, I explained, was that I could tour the eastern and central parts of our country … uninterrupted.

Photo credit: Kuensel

Letter to graduates

Bhutanese Blogger

“Bhutanese Blogger” left a comment on “Leadership of the Self”, a post targeted at this year’s graduates.  In his comment (don’t ask how I know his gender) – which happens to be a letter he’d posted on his blog last year – he talks about career choices, the need to develop a strong resume, the importance of cultivating useful networks, entrepreneurship and further studies.

These are, indeed, some important issues that our graduates should ponder. So I’m reproducing his comment here to allow graduates to access it easily.


This was written in 2009. Some figures have changed since then.

Dear Graduates

An unemployment level of 4%, prospects of a smaller civil service and the layoffs in the private sector aren’t good news for you all. Our job market has become more challenging in recent times.

All of you sound incredibly talented and well grounded, and I am sure that your expectations are realistic. You don’t normally graduate again. So take some time to assess where you want to go on from here but be ready to be disappointed in your search.

For many reasons, everybody aspires to work in the civil service. Yes – it provides wide ranging opportunities – from attending to the public to working on a national policy – but you can also become a clone (a typical civil servant who is satisfied with life). So be sure that you have good networking skills – they are useful at all stages and places. You should also have a huge supply of tolerance and patience to see you through long meetings, demanding bosses and people who complain how inefficient civil servants are. If you have good ideas – better. If you don’t have any – be open and willing to explore. Work hard, voice your thoughts and take initiatives (although these may not be demanded of you). Avoid the temptation of being a ‘YES’ man and develop a reputation for delivering results.

But if you are entrepreneurial and enjoy working really hard, consider working for a private company or starting something new. All you need is a good idea and a lot of passion. You will develop commercial skills that will place you well to take advantage of our economy which is being liberalised. And Bhutan needs more entrepreneurs. With our Government committed to developing the sector, the opportunities will only increase.

Another option is to go for higher studies but personally, I think, a few years of working experience makes pursuing a post-graduate degree more enriching. And you could still be looking for work after three years.

But if you aren’t interested in any of these, there is yet another career path you could choose –

You have a degree and qualify to to represent your people in the national assembly. Network and develop your political capital. Go home and establish your credentials. I hear that being an MP isn’t a difficult job. My convictions come from desiring to see or hear of something substantial done by the MPs. I could be wrong. But you have a good opportunity to prove that MPs need more talents than just the ability to be either garrulous in their arguments or subservient in their conduct.

Finally as you start looking for jobs, enhance your CV either by volunteering your time or learning something new. Now is the time to meet people, question and learn as much as you can. As you mature – you are expected to know something and lose that liberty to ask questions.

And maintain lots of positivity and modest levels of overconfidence (overconfidence does help).

All the best.

Leadership of the Self


About 1,300 graduates are taking part in the annual graduate orientation programme. And like last year, and the year before, the opposition party will not have the opportunity to meet them.

Last year, I blogged about what I would have spoken about had I been able to meet the graduates. And over the weekend, I’ve been thinking about the wide range of issues that might interest this year’s graduates. But one topic stood out: His Majesty the King’s recent Convocation Address to the students of the University of Calcutta.

As the students in Kolkata prepared to enter the real world of work, His Majesty the King had urged them to live their lives guided by the values of kindness, integrity and justice. To exercise “Leadership of the Self”, His Majesty commanded, is to become better human beings. And that to bring change in the world – to eradicate poverty; to reduce inequalities; to reverse environmental degradation; to improve healthcare – we need to actively seek out “Leadership of the Self”; not leaders to lead the masses.

His Majesty the King’s message is even more relevant for every one of us at home. And it’s particularly pertinent for the 2010 graduates, our future leaders, for whom I reproduce His Majesty’s address in its entirety.

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Jobless in Bhutan

Great expectations

Great expectations

The results of the Labour Force Survey, 2009 has me worried: unemployment has jumped to 4%; and more than 80% of them are youth between the ages of 15 and 25. In absolute terms, 13,000 of the 325,700 economically active people are unemployed. And of them, 10,500 are youth. Youth between the ages of 15 and 19 are hit the hardest – 20.1% of them are unemployed.

So last week’s job fair was a good idea. It sought to boost employment by bringing employers and jobseekers together.

But, our labour minister’s statement at the job fair has me even more worried: He was quoted as saying that unemployment is not a real problem in Bhutan, rather it is the mismatch of available jobs and aspirations of the jobseekers.

I’d like to remind our labour minister that, mismatch or not, unemployment is already a real problem for many of our youth. Unemployment must be real problem if young men and women trek to the labour ministry everyday in search of jobs, and mostly return home disappointed. Unemployment must be a real problem if qualified engineers can’t find work. Unemployment must be a real problem if we expect our graduates to work abroad. And, unemployment must be a real problem if the very job fair that the labour minister addressed had about 9,000 jobseekers but only 287 jobs on offer.

Our government’s promise to reduce unemployment to 2.5% by 2013 is commendable. And it can be done. But not if we don’t accept that we already have a problem – a problem that is growing rapidly by the day.

Be Somebody!

The National Graduate Orientation Programme is over. And 1,300 graduates have now entered the workforce. I didn’t get to congratulate them. So I’ve decided to write about what I would have talked about had I been given the opportunity to meet them.

First, I would have talked about employment. Then I would have talked about the role of the opposition.


Be somebody! Sound familiar?

Be somebody! Remember this hand signal? Clenched fist, thumb upright?

Yes, of course you do. It’s from the career counseling tour in 2002, seven years ago. Yes, seven years ago – I can’t believe that that’s how long it’s already been – when Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup visited every high school in the country to talk to our students about what they wanted to do in life. I was a part of the multi-sectoral task force that accompanied Lyonpo Sangay in 2002.

You were in school that year, all of you. Most of you would have been in class 8 or 9. So you probably would have attended the career counseling workshop. Chances are you don’t remember my presentation. But then again, chances are you may remember something I said. And what did I say? Be somebody!

Now you’ve graduated – one thousand, two hundred and sixty four of you. You have graduated with degrees in business, commerce, IT, management, science, engineering, medicine, philosophy, architecture, and a range of specializations in the arts. Well done. Congratulations!

It hasn’t been easy, I know. I’ve met some of you. And you’ve told me so. You’ve had to work hard and study long hours. And most of you have had to struggle in foreign lands – in India and beyond. Some of you have had to borrow money to finance your studies.

But you graduated. And now you are ready to serve your king, your country and your people. You are ready to be somebody!

During the orientation programme, a lot of people have talked to you about employment, and described the many job opportunities that you have. They are right. You see, our country has barely six hundred thousand people. That’s not enough people. In fact, one of the biggest challenges we continue to face is a shortage of workers in almost every field. We simply don’t have enough people to grow our own food, build our homes, teach our children, care for our sick, do business, and to protect our country.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to do. And that’s why I’m particularly happy to see that we have so many young graduates this year. You represent the new Bhutanese workforce – a workforce that is knowledgeable; a workforce that is productive; a workforce that will unleash the true potential of Bhutan.

But many people have also cautioned you about unemployment. This is unfortunate. Like I said, we have too few people. So we really shouldn’t have any unemployment. Yet, there is. And, as a matter of fact, it is growing.

Why is this happening? Mainly because of two inter-related reasons: one, we do not accept the jobs that exist; and two, our economy is weak. Put another way: Our economy is weak, so it generates only a few jobs. But when even these jobs remain vacant, our economy becomes weaker. And a weaker economy offers even less jobs. It’s a vicious cycle, one that we can reverse, one that we must reverse.

To reverse this trend, we must strengthen our economy. We have no other alternative. And that responsibility falls primarily on our government. But we have important roles too. As opposition leader, for instance, I must work with the government to support real and sustainable growth in our economy. This, I will pledge do.

And you, as graduates, can help strengthen the economy – can be part of the solution – by taking employment very seriously. Look for jobs, not just in the civil service, but especially in the private sector. Work hard. And make sure that you are productive. Make sure that you contribute to building our economy.

Seven years ago, during the career counseling tour, I asked you what “Be somebody!” meant to you. This is how most of you replied: a “somebody” is a person who is useful to self, to family and to country; a “somebody” is a person who is gainfully employed.

Be somebody!

Graduating students

Well oriented

Well oriented

About 1,300 graduates are currently attending this year’s National Graduate Orientation Programme. And, like last year, the opposition party has not been included in the programme.

So today, when I heard that the graduates were hosting a cultural show for the public, I rushed to the Nazhoen Pelri. I’m glad I went. Our graduates are obviously talented. And they put on quite a show. From boedra and rigsar to Bhutanese rock and hip hop, the graduates entertained us with a range of performances. Not bad, considering that they’ve been together for barely ten days.

The chief counselor, Namgyal Dorji, told me that the proceeds from the cultural show will go to a charity. Good job.

Congratulations to all graduates for a wonderful performance. This week’s banner, a photo from the cultural show, celebrates the 2009 graduates.

Youngten Lempen Tharchen, an NGOP participant and a temporary reporter at Bhutan Today, has been writing about this year’s graduate orientation on his blog.

Returning graduates

Since the start of planned modern development in our country, one of our biggest constraints to progress has been the consistent shortage of human resources. We simply did not have enough skilled and qualified people required to initiate and sustain development. So when our students studying in India and beyond returned home after they graduated, we welcomed them back eagerly. And we were proud of the fact that they – almost every single one of them – chose to return home instead of working abroad.

Not any more. Recently, 100 graduates completed a month-long training at Infosys. 37 of them were offered jobs in India. But of them, only 9 have accepted the offers. The rest want to work in Bhutan. We, however, want them to work in India. Lyonpo Nandalal Rai reportedly spent an hour trying to persuade them that they should “not waste such an opportunity”. And many of us, led by the media, have quickly cast them as ungrateful youth who are “shaming the country.”

We’ve stopped welcoming back our graduates with open arms. Instead, we’re encouraging them to work in India.  And if, for whatever reason, they don’t, we attack them. I am concerned.

True, unemployment is real. The government estimates that there are already about 13,000 unemployed youth, the majority of them between the ages of 15 and 24. But shaming our youth into accepting foreign jobs is not the solution. Instead, we should see them as a scarce resource, which, indeed, they are. And we should make full use of this resource to strengthen our economy which, after decades of modern development, is still largely dependent on foreign aid and loans.

Graduates who chose to work in Bhutan are not the problem. They are part of the solution. Without them – and there are another 1,330 graduates currently attending an orientation – it would be virtually impossible to develop the vibrant economy that we badly need.

The government is building an IT park, our first, in Babesa. This is good news. Some of us are concerned that the refusal of the graduates to accept the Infosys and Genpak jobs in India will discourage international businesses from investing in the IT park. The opposite may, in fact, be true. We can now convince potential investors that we have enough qualified graduates. And, more importantly, that they prefer to work in Bhutan.