‘Learn and Earn’ program approved based on BEO’s proposal

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In the wake of the ‘Learn and Earn’ program in Japan becoming more contentious each day, questions have surfaced in various platforms and from various quarters on how and why the labor ministry gave such a huge project to Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO).

Apart from the assessment criteria on how was the project awarded to BEO, a few have also alleged collusion between the labor ministry and the agency and questioned how the latter was able to get such a big project despite being a new and an inexperienced agency.

Responding to Business Bhutan, the Director General of the Department of Employment with the labor ministry, Sherub Tenzin said there is no question of experience or inexperience and also there is no question of any work being given directly to anybody.

“The proposal to place youth in Japan was submitted by BEO. It is their proposal. The proposal was considered by the ministry and saw it as an important option to gainfully engage youth considering that youth unemployment is the most pressing issue that the country faces. The Japan program has the potential to enhance skills of youth and improve their employability,” he added.

Talking about how the program was started, the Director General said the ministry has been implementing various youth engagement programs to address youth unemployment problems in the country.

The ‘Learn and Earn’ program in Japan was started based on the proposal submitted by the Bhutanese Overseas Agent for the engagement of youth in Japan in 2016. The program ‘Learn and Earn’ was initiated and proposed by BEO towards the end of 2016 with an objective to let the students earn, learn, provide skills to Bhutanese youth, create employment, gain exposure and learn work ethics.

Sherub Tenzin said since the programme was not a government budgeted program and therefore there was no question of tendering.

“BEO had their contacts in Japan,” he added.

On the rationale for placements in Japan, the Director General explained that Bhutanese youth go to Australia with huge sums of loans from private as well as financial institutions. College fees alone are upwards of Nu 16 lakhs per annum. In addition, loans up to Nu 30 lakhs are required for presenting account balance for the purpose of fulfilling visa requirements. Once in Australia, youth are engaged in odd jobs mostly cleaning requiring long drive to work besides long hours of work.

“Going to Japan costs Nu 7 lakhs only and under similar working conditions,” he added.

Similarly, he said that Class XII students leaving for colleges in India spend nearly four years and about Nu 6-7 lakhs only to return with degrees that do not guarantee jobs. Japan program for class XII students cost about Nu 7 lakhs and takes about four years (2 years of language and 2 years of vocational course) with part time income earning possibilities during the study period, leading to world skills and employment opportunities in Japan or anywhere in the world. Should they decide to return home, they will come back with high vocational skills.

And unemployment being highest among the university graduates currently, Sherub Tenzin said, “We need to divert students from university programs to vocational and skills training. Japan offers this option at very little or no cost to the government.”

He added another outcome expected from placements to Japan is development of strong work ethics and work culture in our youth from their experience in Japan as Bhutanese youth are laid back.

According to the Director General, Japan takes in youth from China, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries in huge numbers. No other country issues visas in such a large numbers. With an ageing population, they need to import workers and is currently happening mainly in the guise of student visas.

He said, “We need to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Japan for not only solving youth unemployment faced currently in the country but for the many positive outcomes described above.”

According to the Director General, there are currently three registered overseas employment agencies: BEO, Bhutan Overseas Jinzai Private Limited (BJOPL) that places youth in Japan, and Best Placement Agency (BPA) in Malaysia and Australia through the ‘Learn and Earn’ program.

The Tokyo Institute of Japan (TIJ) in direct collaboration with the ministry has also placed youth in Japan.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu