MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Last year, 110,000 Nepalis competed for 1,500 non-gazetted posts in the civil services. The Public Service Commission needed to fill 1,000 program officer posts, it received 100,000 applications. For an opening of 1,350 posts in the police force, there were 40,357 applicants. 29,000 candidates applied for 45 first-level assistant officer posts at Nepal Rastra Bank's branches outside the Valley.
And long queues of hopeful job-hunters lined up outside Nepal Telecom and Nepal Electricity Authority.
"We lined up from six in the morning to submit our documents. There were hundreds on the street for an opening for five posts. It felt like I was queuing up for movie tickets, I had never seen anything like that," recalls 27-year-old Isha Rai who applied to the post of section officer at Nepal Bank in 2011. She didn't get the job.
As the country's population pyramid experiences a youth bulge, an ever larger employment crisis looms over us. More than half of Nepal's 26 million strong population are economically active, in other words between the ages of 15 and 64. About 500,000 young adults enter the job market annually, but the market is able to absorb only ten per cent. The remaining join the three million Nepalis working abroad in India, the Gulf, South Korea, Malaysia, US, and Europe. In 2011 alone, 3,84665 Nepalis packed their bags and escaped rising unemployment at home.
Although the 2011 census puts the unemployment rate at only two per cent, this number is highly skewed. It does not account for the 30 per cent who are currently under-employed or the 68 per cent involved in subsistence farming who contribute around 35 per cent of the GDP.
Political interference means infrastructure development, hydropower projects, and other big programs are all lying dormant and the inability of successful governments to bring out timely and complete budgets has stunted the country's economic growth and job-creation.
"While there are some jobs for skilled labourers in the finance, tourism, and IT sector, for most young Nepalis finding jobs is extremely challenging and the political instability is only making things worse," says economist Chiranjibi Nepal.
During the fiscal year 2008-2009, 302 businesses were registered at the Department of Industry which provided employment to around 20,000. This figure shrank to 160 in 2011-2012 and the number of people employed was slashed by half. The industry's contribution to the GDP also plummeted from 10 per cent about five years ago to a meagre six per cent.
"With no new industries or investment, job creation is at an all time low," admits Manish Agrawal, vice chairman of Employers Council at the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI).
The private sector has shown no signs of growth either and its current GDP input stands at 14 per cent, down from 18 per cent in 2007-2008. While the state employs 80,000 in civil service, 90,000 in the army, 58,000 in the police and 150,000 teachers, it is in no way equipped to stem the creeping unemployment rate.
Last year, desperate candidates were found paying millions in bribe to officials in promise of entry into the army, police, and other government offices. Increasing number of youngsters are relying on illegal channels to go abroad, using forged documents and risking exploitation at the hands of agents and employers.
However, experts say the potential to generate jobs especially in agriculture is huge given that our economy still relies heavily on agriculture. "If we can modernise our farming techniques, move towards industrial farming like the West, increase productivity, then agriculture will become more attractive and pull in the huge unskilled workforce," explains Ganesh Gurung, former member of the National Planning Commision.
Self-employment and small businesses could be another alternative suggests Komal Bhatta, communications officer of the Employment Fund Secretariat in Helvetas Nepal. But for people to start their own business, they need vocational training and a network of support from the state and financial institutions.
As parties obsess over meeting deadlines and forging concensus, nobody seems concerned about the unemployed and frustrated youths in the country. If quick solutions are not found, these men and women can turn into potent ingredients for future unrest.
Censoring the census
Our leaders are so obsessed politicking, they are oblivious to the looming job bomb
SLC graduate Lakpa Sherpa from Memar, Solukhumbu district earns an enviable five-figure income from his farm every month. For the past three years, the 42-year-old has been growing cauliflowers, cabbages, pumpkins, radish, and tomatoes in his green house. While mulberries, pears, ginger, and herbs blossom in his nine acre plot.
Keen to use environmentally friendly farming techniques, he also produces his own organic fertiliser and uses waste from the farm as compost. Although transportation of goods is a problem due to the difficult terrain, he has no complaints. He sells his produce at the bajar in Salleri and Nelema and also at the local market and earns enough to sustain his family of five.
"At times I felt like leaving everything and looking for jobs abroad. I even got a few offers, but I knew that if I worked hard on my land, there would be enough opportunities to earn and make a name for myself," admits Lakpa.
His farm is now a research and expertise centre for the locals. School children, housewives, and fellow farmers come to inquire out about his practices and get information on modern farming methods. Even farmers who were planning to give up agriculture and move to the cities or search for foreign employment, are having second thoughts after seeing Lakpa's success.