Skills Training Means Jobs, Lower Emigration in Nepal

Govinda Shrestha inside his workshop.
Govinda Shrestha inside his workshop.

By Bimal Babu Khatri

Technical skills are becoming increasingly in demand as Nepal transitions from an agrarian to a mixed economy.

On a baking hot summer day in Butwal, a town in Nepal’s southern plains, 29-year-old Govinda Shrestha is perspiring all over as he drives screws into an aluminum door inside a tin-roofed workshop. Another worker is cutting a glass panel to fit into a window frame. Two others are sawing aluminum pipes to a make curtain wall. The workshop, very noisy and busy this week as they are finishing up a job for a new office, opened just nine months ago but is already turning a profit.

“I could not have asked for more. I am not only earning a living for myself but for four other men as well,” said Govinda, who owns the workshop.

Govinda set up his businesses after attending a three-month training program on aluminum fabrication run by the Deurali Janata Technical School, a private training center, under the ADB-financed $20 million Skills Development Project. During the training, he learned to make aluminum doors, windows, and partition rooms, but after the lessons in entrepreneurship and business planning he realized that he could set up his own small business. 

Had it not been for the training, Govinda, a high school graduate, would probably have ended up as a migrant worker in the Middle East or Malaysia, where 85% of the nearly 3 million Nepalese migrants live and work.

Every year, around 550,000 people enter the job market in Nepal, but with a lack of good local jobs or training to provide marketable skills, many head overseas as unskilled laborers. Some 1,200 to 1,400 young people like Govinda migrate every day seeking employment or better opportunities in the Gulf and Malaysia. More go elsewhere.

Govinda is one of the 17,485 people trained so far under the Skills Development Project, implemented by the Nepal government’s Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training. Most of them have either found jobs or launched their own businesses.

''So far, the rate of employment is above 70%,'' said Jib Narayan Kafle, director of the project. ''Most importantly, the impact is really high.” The training has led to jobs, regular wages and allowed many to pay for better health and education services, he said.  

By the time it is completed in 2018, the project will have provided training to 45,000 people across Nepal (36,000 through private schools and 9,000 through public schools) to become masons, plumbers, industrial electricians, beauticians, cooks, and vehicle and mobile phone repair persons, among other professions.

Construction, manufacturing, and service sectors are areas where there are particularly huge skills gaps in Nepal, which is one of the key constraints to the country's economic growth. With Nepal undergoing a transition from a largely subsistence, agrarian economy to a more mixed economy needing basic to mid-level technically skilled workers, skills are in demand, especially in the services sector.

Building human capital base through skill development and education remains key for accelerating economic growth in Nepal, and a priority of ADB assistance.

“Nepal is experiencing a skills mismatch in the labor market where job seekers just do not have the right skills for the available jobs,” said Smita Gyawali, who is leading the Skills Development Project from ADB’s Resident Mission in Kathmandu. “Local employers have long reported shortages of workers with technical and general employability skills.”

The project has been encouraging women and excluded groups like the indigenous peoples and dalits—who make up the bulk of those living in poverty in Nepal—to participate in the training program.

One woman trainee, 20-year-old Rita G.C., is currently learning to become the lathe setter operator, a job traditionally performed by men. Although she is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Education degree, she is “confident” she will be able to find a job soon with her new skills. Fellow trainee Sumitra Pandey, 23, is studying to be an industrial electrician, is similarly optimistic. “Butwal is growing fast. Construction work is expanding all the time so I will definitely find a job,” she said.

Most importantly, with skills to hand, there is little need to look overseas for jobs.  ''If the training graduates want to stay and work here in their own country, they can easily find jobs or create a business with the skills they are armed with,” said Bishu Dutta Gautam, an assistant instructor at the CTEVT's Korea Nepal Institute of Technology, which conducts some of the training.

Govinda could not agree more. “There is no point going to the Gulf and other countries to seek employment if you can earn the same or more in your hometown, and you can definitely do that if you are skilled enough.”