Experts and students came together to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on aggravating the country’s youth unemployment, and assess its impacts and possible solutions in an online dialogue organised by the Economics Study Center (ESC), University of Dhaka (DU), on Saturday.
The webinar was arranged in association with Bangladesh Economics Students’ Network (BESN).
The session was moderated by Kefayet Alfesan, Vice-President of ESC. The expert panellists of this session were Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director, Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor of Economics, DU, and Nazmul Avi Hossain, Program Officer, ILO.
The student panellists were Md Shahriar Mahmud Mobin, Team Leader of Academic Affairs Young Economists Forum (YEF), North South University, Mustafa Sadman Sakib, Vice-President, Research and Development, BUP Economics Club, and Mehedy Hasan, Head of Logistics, East-West University Economics Club.
The session commenced with Mustafa Sadman Sakib discussing the effects of COVID-19 on new labour market entrants. He discussed how unemployment among educated individuals is 5.3 per cent compared to 1.7 per cent in illiterate individuals, has been ailing the country even before the onset of the pandemic.
As 80 per cent of the unemployed belong to the young generation, he suggested some actions.
“Three approaches could help alleviate the situation- faster and more efficient vaccination rollout, implementation of a fiscal policy alongside the current monetary policy, and encouraging the learning of TVET, computer courses, and freelancing so that students have a source of income in case of an uncertain catastrophe like the COVID pandemic.”
Mehedy Hasan discussed how e-commerce and outsourcing industries have strengthened in Bangladesh during COVID-19 making it a major employment source for the youth.
However, delving into the lack of accessibility of such forms of employment, he said, “Although Bangladesh is launching 5G mobile network, many regions in Bangladesh do not even have access to 3G yet. If we cannot address the lack of proper internet and other resources in more underprivileged regions of the country, the people will not be able to access such forms of employment and might have to migrate to Dhaka, further increasing the population here.”
Speaking on the crucial topic of brain drain, Shahriar Mahmud Mubin discussed how most private university students have a target of going abroad after finishing their education since the job infrastructure here is not appealing to them.
“Foreign countries have higher living standards and offer more diversified jobs. Besides, with the high population in our country, jobs and opportunities feel like a lottery draw, rather than a test of skills,” he explained.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem addressed the issue of graduates entering the market post-COVID but remaining unemployed. Stating how the job market has a concentration of low-skilled jobs compared to higher-level jobs, he talked about the need for investment in the job sector and encouraging entrepreneurship.
“Although skill enhancement is essential, as long as existing job opportunities are not increased, one person will be merely replacing the other. Nowadays, people going abroad undergo various training programs but still lack soft skills such as English skills, computer literacy, and communication skills, which makes us lag behind the workforces of other nations. It is also essential that we start seeing ourselves as entrepreneurs, rather than potential employees,” he remarked.
Talking about the skill mismatch in the job market, Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha talked about the lack of implementation of labour laws with the exception of a few sectors.
Stressing on the importance of learning soft skills, she said, “The youth face various discriminations, which start from different education streams in the country. Despite that, youth from all demographics of the country want to engage in more modern jobs, such as rural youth engaging in poultry farming rather than cultivating.”
She further said that it is crucial to enhance the government protection of e-commerce and the gig economy so that this can be a safer employment choice for the youth.
Nazmul Hasan Avi assessed how the skill mismatch problem could be tackled. Talking about how young graduates have reservations about taking up informal or low-paying jobs, he raised the question of whether the employers have taken any steps to address the skill mismatch of the youth.
He believes that employers need to provide more opportunities to the youth to enhance their skills as he said, “It could be done by offering internship programs or month-long training programs after hiring youth with potential. Employees could also partner with universities, guiding the students on how to develop the skills needed for their work life.”
After a question-answer session with the expert panellists, the session concluded with closing remarks from Dr Selim Raihan, Professor of Economics, DU, and Executive Director of SANEM.
Addressing the skill mismatch problem in unemployed youth, Professor Raihan raised the question, “If there is a demand for skill, why do we not have ample supply of such skill? Industries are afraid of free-riding problems of investing in skills, i.e. they are afraid that other employers might reap the benefits of their investments. Corrective measures will be more effective to solve such market failure, rather than private-sector initiatives.”
The Financial Express was a Media Partner for this webinar.