A 2014 Economist Intelligence Unit report showing rate of joblessness among Bangladeshi graduates at about 47 per cent, raised eyebrows of many at that time. In the absence of authentic job market data, Bangladeshi youth's employment status could not be judged methodically unlike what market updates elsewhere suggests.
Now, as a few reports have painted similar pictures of the graduate employment situation, a question is being seriously asked: Are they aptly employable? It is an issue of quality of education which has been added to the concern over shortage of jobs resulted from stagnation in investment, especially in growth of employment-generating business and industries.
A World Bank report has reflected the struggle Bangladeshi graduates face in securing white-collar jobs. It suggests more than a third of those jobseekers remain unemployed one or two years after graduation. "The high incidence of prolonged unemployment among graduates raises concerns about the job readiness and relevance of skills that tertiary educational institution in Bangladesh impart to their students," observed the report titled 'Tertiary Education and Job Skills' published last week.
The WB findings are similar to those of another report, a survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), which revealed earlier this year that the unemployment rate among the university graduates is 38.6 per cent. Also, the Labour Force Survey 2016-17 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found 46 per cent of the unemployed people to be graduates.
This is the state of unemployment when foreign employees are believed to take away $5 billion a year from the country. The Washington-based Pew Research Center reported that an amount of $2.01 billion was remitted from Bangladesh in 2016.
The number of foreigners employed in Bangladesh is said to be around 500,000 and except 100,000 of them, who have official work permits, all are working illegally. Paradoxically, many Bangladeshi youth including the ones from leading universities and with English education are migrating abroad and also serving reputed Western companies.
However, almost 70 per cent employers complained about a shortage of skilled applicants for professional positions within the country. For hiring foreign workers and professionals, they have to spend more, the WB report pointed out.
It underlined the need for improvement in academic programmes to address shortcomings of the graduates. Skills training on information and communications technology, English and higher-order thinking such as communication, problem-solving and team work are recommended for bridging the gap between demand and supply of quality professionals.
In today's Bangladesh, a low employment scenario despite 8.0 per cent growth is compounded by less employability of graduates. Less than half of more than two million youth who come to the job market every year, manage to find opportunities and not all the unemployed people are higher degree holders.
Thus, the country is facing a two-fold crisis: a statistical growth without much employment and possibility of losing demographic dividend due to skill deficiency of the labour force. The former relates to business climate for creating opportunities for millions while the latter indicates poor quality of education that is only producing job market entrants without required capacity. Our policymakers are more or less aware of the tasks to resolve these issues, but a holistic package to utilise potential of the youth bulge is largely missing.
There is no reason why people would refrain from taking efforts to attain skills and knowledge for overcoming the job market challenges or to run a better business. What the youth need most is confidence that a right atmosphere is there to improve individual performance and contribute to national well-being.