Bhutanese women and youth face job market challenges


A recent data analysis from the Labor Force Survey (BLFS) reveals a concerning picture of Bhutan’s labor market, particularly in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a growing skilled workforce offers promise for future development, significant challenges remain, especially for women, young people with education, and the illiterate.

According to the survey report, there is a good trend; the ratio of working-age adults to dependents, or the demographic dividend, has not been affected by the declining working-age population. This is a result of the skilled labor force, especially in cities, expanding quickly.

It states that even though the gender gap in education is closing, it is still present and obscures this development. The education gap between rural and urban areas still exists, even though it is narrowing for middle-skill levels.

“The pandemic had a major effect on unemployment rates and labor patterns. Employees reduced their weekly hours by two to three on average in 2020 compared to 2019,” the report states.

In 2021, the margin shrank slightly but did not quite close. It’s interesting to note that part-time employment increased briefly during the pandemic’s beginning, but that trend reversed in 2021, with both men and women wanting more hours if they could.

The impact of the pandemic on various kinds of jobs varies. All around, the number of self-employed individuals increased while the number of employers and family workers decreased. This change was especially noticeable in the agricultural industry, as women moved from working for their families to working for themselves more frequently.

In non-agricultural sectors, a similar pattern of increasing self-employment and decreasing employers was noted, which may indicate a reduction in business size. 

Remarkable disparities in pandemic-related profits are revealed by the report. Compared to 2019, the number of men employed in agriculture increased by 15 percent in actual terms. During the same era, however, women who were employed in non-agricultural fields saw a real decline of four percent.

The report suggests a potential link between the higher female labor force participation rate during the pandemic and the subsequent rise in unemployment among women.

The pre-pandemic stability in unemployment rates was shattered by the pandemic, with a significant rise observed in 2020 and 2021. This rise was particularly concerning for women, whose unemployment rate grew faster than men’s.

Furthermore, the unemployment rates among young people aged 15 to 24 and those with postsecondary education were higher during the pandemic, indicating a possible mismatch in skill sets or an excess of graduates entering the workforce over available positions.

The geographic breakdown of unemployment presents a concerning image. In 2022, the unemployment rate increased even though the labor force participation rate generally decreased following the epidemic, especially in urban areas.

This implies that metropolitan areas see a concentration of unemployment during the recovery period. Conversely, rural unemployment rates held steady during the course of the time.

Even while the general labor force participation rate is dropping, the growth in urban unemployment in 2022 raises the possibility of job losses for those who have previously held employment. This claim is reinforced by the data, which shows a notable rise in the proportion of jobless individuals with prior employment.

The private sector employed the bulk of these people who had previously held jobs, and the sector most impacted by rises in unemployment was hospitality.

“The inequitable recovery underscores the pressing need for focused initiatives, especially for youth and women. The research emphasizes the significance of tackling the ongoing gender disparity in schooling and developing skill development initiatives that are customized to the needs of the job market,” it states.

In addition, for efforts to address the rising rate of urban unemployment, policies that promote company expansion and job creation in urban areas are essential.

“Bhutan can guarantee that everyone has access to a more resilient and inclusive labor market by recognizing these issues and putting suitable solutions in place.”

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