Bhutan’s Innovative Gelephu SEZ – The Role of Strategic Foresight in Workforce Planning and Skills Development

Bhutan, renowned for its Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy, is set to embark on an ambitious and transformative journey with the Gelephu “mindfulness” mega-city project. This innovative initiative, covering an extensive area of 1000 square kilometres, aims to establish an economic hub rooted in the principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship. As declared by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, this project will be the world’s first alternative “carbon-negative” Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Such an endeavour highlights Bhutan’s commitment to environmental conservation while driving economic growth, presenting an unparalleled opportunity for strategic workforce planning and development using strategic foresight.

The announcement of the Gelephu mega-city project has captured global attention, not only for its scale but for its visionary approach to sustainable development. The concept of a carbon-negative SEZ aligns with Bhutan’s dedication to maintaining its carbon-neutral status. By incorporating mindfulness and sustainable practices into its development, the project could become a beacon of environmental innovation. This is particularly significant for the Himalayan region, where the impacts of climate change are increasingly evident.

Wendy Perry, Managing Director of Workforce BluePrint and a strategic workforce planning and development, VET/TVET expert, notes the profound implications of this project. “For Bhutan and the Himalayan region, this is a once in a generation opportunity, demonstrating to the rest of the world the importance of the environment, applying a visionary and Bhutanese way of thinking. Creating a new city is rare, and this could provide an amazing international case study of applying strategic foresight to workforce planning and skills development. A very unique workforce capability framework that is a global standout with a strategic workforce action plan that is transformational. To work on something like this initiative would be a pinnacle of your career.”

Strategic foresight, a crucial element in workforce planning, involves anticipating future trends and preparing for various possible scenarios. This proactive approach ensures that the workforce is equipped with the skills and capabilities needed to thrive in an evolving economic landscape. In the context of the Gelephu mega-city, strategic foresight will play a pivotal role in shaping the city’s development and ensuring its long-term sustainability.

Applying strategic foresight to workforce planning, VET/TVET programs in Gelephu involves several key steps. Firstly, identifying the skills and competencies required for the diverse sectors that will drive the city’s economy, such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, and technology. This will necessitate a comprehensive understanding of current and future industry trends, as well as the potential impacts of technological advancements.

Secondly, developing a workforce capability framework tailored to the unique needs of the Gelephu project. This framework should encompass not only technical skills but functional skills, industry essential and 21st Century literacies for fostering a culture of mindfulness and sustainability. As Perry suggests, this framework will be a global standout, showcasing Bhutan’s innovative approach to workforce development and learning.

Moreover, strategic workforce action plans must be formulated to ensure the effective implementation of the capability framework. These plans should include targeted education and training programs, partnerships with CSO and academic institutions, with initiatives to attract and retain top talent. By aligning these plans with the broader goals of the Gelephu project, Bhutan can create a resilient and adaptable workforce capable of driving the city’s success.

The significance of the Gelephu project extends beyond Bhutan’s borders. It serves as a model for other nations seeking to balance economic growth with environmental preservation. By leveraging strategic foresight and workforce planning, Bhutan can demonstrate the viability of a carbon-negative economic hub, inspiring similar initiatives worldwide.

Furthermore, the Gelephu project offers valuable insights into the integration of traditional wisdom, heritage and traditional skills, and modern innovation. Bhutan’s emphasis on mindfulness and well-being, rooted in its cultural heritage, provides a unique perspective on sustainable development. By incorporating these principles into the design and operation of the mega-city, Bhutan can create a harmonious and thriving community that sets a new standard for urban development, integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Gelephu “mindfulness” mega-city project represents a landmark initiative in sustainable development and possibly workforce planning. As Bhutan embarks on this transformative journey, strategic foresight will be instrumental in shaping the city’s future. By applying a visionary and Bhutanese way of thinking, Bhutan can create a global exemplar of a carbon-negative economic hub. For professionals participating in this initiative, it could represent a pinnacle career opportunity, contributing to a remarkable project that will leave a lasting legacy for future generations, impacting future cities, towns and regions.

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