Exploiting BNFQ's potential for further human resource dividend  

Nilratan Halder     | Thursday, 12 August 2021

At a time the world is grappling with the second, third or even fourth wave of coronavirus onslaught, streams of illegal migrant workers heading for fresh pasture continue unabated. The pandemic could not deter them from undertaking risky and uncertain journeys. Over the past months, distressing news of capsize of boats with such workers from Bangladesh and similar other disasters involving them off the coast of Lybia and Tunisia came from time to time to shock and sadden readers at home. One such boat accident was even reported off the coast of the Caribbean Sea on way to the United States of America.

Such illegal migration occurred before the pandemic. What is surprising is how these mostly aspiring youths manage to travel to Africa or Colombia when international flights have remained more or less suspended. Their desperation to make it to their desired destinations can be imagined. Now these young men embarking on desperate journeys are not unlettered at all. Some of them are supposed to be moderately educated. Avenues of employment at home are non-existent or if there are some, those are low-paying.

If developments such as these are disconcerting, the return of batches of migrant workers whose service has been declared dispensable in the host countries adds to the woes. Remittance has registered record rise only because such workers had channelled their entire service-time income at a time through legal money transfer routes. Crunch time in remittance income is soon to arrive. Worse, the returnees could not be provided with any employment at home or their skills are not enough for the existing opportunities or making good use in entrepreneurships to be created especially for them. The pandemic has made the challenge more daunting.

This is unsurprising when the mismatch between higher education and employment had left the highest proportion of graduates and post-graduates among all the educated groups unemployed even before the pandemic. Clearly, the utility of the general education offered at schools, colleges and universities is unhelpful for the majority to build a highly desirable career. Prevailing long, these lapses of education have come under a closer scrutiny of late.

What has transpired seems to be the right approach to the growing problem of unemployment. The initiative, moreover, can make good use of the pandemic time to consolidate its shape and scope in a changed environment such as this. Called the National Technical and Vocational Qualification Framework (NTVQF), developed by the government of Bangladesh in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the European Union, it seeks to serve the National Skills Development Policy 2011. Its ultimate goal is to put in place what is called the Bangladesh National Qualifications Framework (BNQF) that corresponds to the standards of other countries in the world. Through training and retraining under a flexible system, students will be able to whet their skills to the highest level so that they would be competent enough even for jobs in the era of automation of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

Here the news is both bad and good. Bad, because, according to a study carried on 200,000 jobs in 29 countries by the Price Water Coopers, 44 per cent workers' jobs will be displaced by the mid-2030s on account of automation. Good, because, 26 million jobs will be created with the proliferation of online services, claims a McKinsey report. So the potential of the BNQF is beyond question. For four years now the ILO Bangladesh has been supporting the Technical and Madrasah Education (TMED) to develop this cherished framework. Seven technical working groups headed by senior education officials under a National Steering Committee have prepared the draft. The TMED and the secondary and Higher Education Division coordinated the whole process. It was finalised and accepted at a NSC meeting on June 3 last.

A lot of energy, time and dedication went into the making of the BNFQ. Apart from the educational apparatuses, the process also involved professional organisations, industry bodies such as the Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF) and the National Coordination Committee on Workers Education (NCCWE). This is significant because both the representatives of employers and employees know their requirements and also suggest where to act in order to overcome weaknesses and lapses.

The BNQF, it is claimed, will present a mechanism offering flexible entry and exit to students of different education streams. It will also create an environment for workers and employers to re-skill, find work, change jobs and even occupation. The recognition of their skill through certification will put them on a par with their global counterparts.

All this is good news but will it cover high-end jobs like those in the readymade garments (RMG) sector? This sector often complains that it has to hire foreign employees at the top echelons because of dearth of local hands with qualification of knowledge and skills demanded in the service. If BNQF does not cover those opportunities, a similar initiative should be taken involving the country's higher education aimed at addressing the problems RMG faces in recruiting local people. The manufacturing sector will also demand automation and jobs will be dispensable there as well as created. Retraining of workers will be needed as much as making higher education equal to the challenge of the 4IR.   


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