The suggestion that the country's readymade garments (RMG) sector can remain competitive only if it moves up the value chain and goes for enhancement of its negotiation capacity is worth noting. Then how does the RMG moves up the value chain? To do so the industry has to create its own brands instead of merely producing the traditional items as ordered by foreign buyers. But creating brands is easier said than done. Skill shortage, as a keynote paper on the future of RMG industry in Bangladesh presented at a seminar organised by the South Asian Network for Economic Modeling (SANEM) points out, is the main stumbling block on its way to branding its products. Currently, about 500,000 foreign skilled employees work for the country's RMG industry. Hired as they are, they are unlikely to be imbued with a spirit of turning local products into global brands. It is the patriotic zeal and commitment of local skilled manpower in the sector which can be counted on going the extra length to do this.
Bangladesh has long been wallowing in the low-end of the global RMG market mostly because the right kind of initiative is lacking in this sector. The fact that 500,000 foreigners - most of them working illegally - take away about $5.0 billion should have worked as governing motive for policymakers and factory owners to work together to raise a highly skilled crop of local employees who could by now take over from their foreign counterparts. The Ministry of Education could play a defining role in this regard. But instead of opening up educational institutions and training institutes to feed the market, it has liberally approved universities for higher education with no relevance to the market demands. Then the RMG is not the only industry that relies mostly on foreign skilled workers.
It is a pity that the findings of different studies by organisations and think tanks like the SANEM have not been taken seriously. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the number of unemployed people in the year 2016-17 stood at 2.7 million. Intriguingly, while the national unemployment rate is 4.2 per cent, it is only 2.7 per cent among those who completed primary education but 11.2 per cent among university graduates. Here is an unsavoury indication that the higher the education, the greater is unemployment in this country. Clearly for many education has become irrelevant, it has to be made meaningful by raising the scope of employability.
Unemployment of a large number of young graduates exposes the ugly truth that there is a mismatch between education offered and the demand for it together with skills in the market. An assessment of the national job market is well in order. On the basis of which the education system should be planned anew. There is no point producing unemployed graduates. Now that the country is on the way of diversifying its export basket, the scope of extending the skill base is there too. In the interest of producing a highly skilled local workforce, a suitable education model must be devised.
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