Developing migrant workers' skillset holds the key

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury | Published: August 28, 2018 21:12:22 | Updated: September 09, 2018 21:56:09

On an average, around 500,000 to 700,000 people from Bangladesh migrate to other countries every year, seeking employment in a number of professions in various sectors. According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), over 451,536 people have migrated to different parts of the world till the month of July this year. This number stood at 1,008,525 in 2017 and 757,731 in 2016.

Thanks to the hard work and contribution of these migrants, remittances to Bangladesh stood at US$ 9.34 billion till July 2018. The figure was around $13.52 billion in 2017 and $13.61 billion in 2016.

Remittances from migrant workers are vital for the country's economic growth as it contributes to nearly 9.0 per cent of the country's total gross domestic product (GDP). But as competition in the global manpower export market increases, Bangladeshi migrant workers are faced with further challenges at securing high and medium-paid jobs.

As a result, these workers who are mostly unskilled and semi-skilled, often find it hard to get any better job opportunity and consequently engage themselves in low-paid jobs in countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, United Kingdom and other countries. In order to remit significant sum of money to their families residing in Bangladesh, they are forced to sacrifice decent living conditions, nutrition, healthcare, education, and training.

Over the past few years, many international organisations have conducted studies that revealed the kind of opportunities that the Bangladeshi migrant workers are not getting in the host countries. The studies had also recommended different solutions through which better salaries and benefits for migrants and more remittance for Bangladesh could be ensured.

A study in 2016 by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) titled 'Maximising the potential of labour migration through skills development and certification' had found that only 31 per cent migrant workers could secure employment in skilled jobs on foreign soil.

As most of the migrants lack training and few have the qualifications recognised by the host nations, they end up in jobs with low payment and less responsibilities. The study also revealed that the Bangladeshi migrants fared poorly than their counterparts from Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and other countries due to these reasons.

The IOM study, however, made a number of recommendations. Primarily, it suggested standardised recruitment practices and effective engagement with host countries to ensure that the migrants do not face uncertainty once they reach the foreign country. A digital platform that can link different stakeholders was prescribed to ensure transparency in the recruitment process.

The study also urged concerned departments in Bangladesh to provide outbound workers with training through vocational training institutes to enhance skills that are in demand across the world -- especially in host countries. Strengthening bilateral and regional government-to-government collaboration was also recommended.

Similar recommendations were also made by other international organisations and migration experts. A section of the experts suggested that the government seek new destination for migrant workers rather than getting fixated on Middle East (ME) and Southeast Asian countries, as these markets are becoming increasingly saturated.

Implementation of some of these recommendations looks underway. Of late, a report published in this newspaper said the government has chalked out a project, under which 19,200 Madrassah teachers will receive training on information and communication technology (ICT) and modern Arabic language. It is hoped that such skills would enable the would-be professionals to have well-paid jobs in ME region.

The Tk 2.81 billion project will also ensure special communicative Arabic courses for 9,600 more Madrassah teachers across the nation. From the total cost, Tk 1.41 billion will be provided by the government while the remaining figure will come from overseas sources -- primarily the ME countries. Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) will be the main implementing agency of this project.

This latest initiative is a welcome move on part of the government. Such a capacity building project for the overseas job seekers looks to be in the right direction as ME countries alone recruited more than 80 per cent of a whopping total of some 11.4 million Bangladeshis, who found overseas jobs between 1976 and 2017. Among the top employers, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Qatar remain the main markets.

It has also been reported that the BMET and other government departments related to manpower export are also emphasising on skills development through a project, scheduled to be completed by 2020. Under the project, BMET's training centres are going to provide migrants with training on English and Arabic languages. Following completion of the training, they will be given certificates that will be recognised and accepted in about 80 countries.

With this hope, the BMET officials also said that a database of skilled workers was under development. Already destination countries like Qatar, Japan and Maldives have expressed their interest to recruit migrants using the database, which is really a promising sign for the country's overseas job seekers.

The recent developments with regard to tapping the foreign labour market perhaps originate from the National Skills Development Policy 2011. The policy recommended a National Technical and Vocational Qualifications Framework with clear levels that translate into recognised qualifications in foreign countries


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