There is no substitute to a good basic education which builds the foundation for learning. Similarly, there is no substitute to teaching-learning processes which forms character, positively influences personality, instill values and builds cognition. Guidance from home, community and society also play a critical role in shaping today’s youth as future citizens. These basic skills (reading, writing, calculations, communications etc.) and soft skills (honesty, integrity, confidence, inquisitiveness, pro-activeness, empathy, respect for diversity, critical thinking, analytical abilities etc.) are what employers search for more and more today alongside competence in relevant technical (related to the job) and entrepreneurship skills (leadership, team building, management, negotiation, customer relationship, financial literacy, market analysis, relevant laws and rights etc.). Education systems which recognize these issues also provide enough scope for practical internships (e.g. the dual system / apprenticeship model in Europe), which can ready learners for the workplace. But where systems fail to ensure necessary growth, children graduate or drop out with low skills or no skills and often grow up into youth with underestimation about their own potentials and limited aspirations. Such children, youth and adults get absorbed mainly in the informal economy which in countries like Bangladesh, generate 78% of employment. Employment on the formal sector is 22% of which 11% are in manufacturing and the remaining 11% in services. Therefore, jobs in the informal economy matter and it’s essential to look into modalities of how employees are skilled in such settings and the role and expectation of employers in this regard. In such circumstances, underemployment affect young people equally as unemployment and should not be overlooked in discussions in regard to the right skills for transition into good jobs. Especially when we talk about young people who are looking for jobs instead of being in school, the fact remains evident that most of them dropped out at some stage of their schooling due to poverty and other reasons. Constraints for disadvantaged groups who are marginalized due to various reasons, females due to social norms and rural population due to accessibility is more acute.
In a population of about 170 million, Bangladesh has a workforce of 52 million. By 2025, the labour force is expected to grow to 76 million as 2 million youth join the labour market every year. The need for jobs is staggering and the need to skill labour accordingly is even a greater challenge. About 50% of Bangladesh’s youth and adult population are illiterate or semi-literate. Dropouts in general usually relapse into illiteracy and risk getting into 3D (dirty, demeaning or dangerous) jobs, while dropout girls face a high risk of early marriage. While unemployment rate is relatively low in Bangladesh (<5%) but underemployment (low skills = low paid jobs), is alarmingly high (38%). Compared to the population of the country and considering the youth bulge, the unemployment rate is also an issue of concern. The outreach of the formal sector is inadequate with the country having 3’000 public and private training institutions which are able to enroll only 500’000 students each year, of which only 10% are able to get jobs because most training are not demand based nor allow necessary practical exposure to real work situation. Learners who drop out due to economic reasons oftentimes cannot afford the time for formal training of long duration. Customized enterprise based short courses or apprenticeships become extremely useful in these cases. National initiatives tend to focus on (large) industries related to growth sectors and oftentimes overlook the role of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), which play an equally important role in the informal economy or alternative modalities of training for jobs. This is more of a reality in developing countries though much work is needed to improve quality and standards on MSME based training. But be it for large industries or MSMEs, be it in developing or developed countries, training has to be competency based, catering to the demand of markets. The only way this can be ensured is on one hand by making training systems flexible enough to allow the private sector to take up such a role, and on the other hand, having the private sector see the value of investing time and resources for training. Such changes require sectoral reforms through policy and legislation.
Recognizing that markets are not static, training has to be structured in a continuum which allows personal growth and professional career progression through ladderization and Life Long Learning opportunities so that employees may learn, adapt and adjust as and when necessary as per the need of a changing market. The link between training service providers vis-a-vis employers is critical. Countries need to have in place an equivalency system which allows vertical and horizontal mobility within education and employment and ensures the portability of skills.
Stakeholders in Bangladesh have recognized systemic constraints mentioned earlier and therefore worked together to support the government develop a National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) which was approved in 2011. With the aim to enhance employability and productivity of the country, the NSDP is developed in line with the Sustainable Development Goals 8 and 4.4. and calls for overhauling the age old training system by introducing critical reforms.
The government has set up a National Skills Development Council (NSDC) in partnership with the private sector to implement the NSDP and also established Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) in economic growth sectors. The ISCs work together with the national accreditation agency, the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) to set standards for training and conduct assessments. Industries are setting up Centers for Excellence and contributing to provide apprenticeships. Considering the magnitude of the population and the complexity of the system, the change process has been slow but nevertheless, moving toward the right direction also by working in partnerships with institutions like BRAC.