When most people talk about 'demographic dividend' for Bangladesh being blessed with younger population, they mostly miss two critical points. One, the youth need education and skills proper as well as a healthy market or business climate to do a job or to create one. Two, they need quality education and skills to explore global opportunities.
Lack of opportunities in commensurate with one's capacity and social expectations indicates why some youths choose adventurous path of going abroad by boat to reach the dreamland of Europe via the Mediterranean or crossing series of borders in the central America to reach the US.
The Bangladesh people, who have been working in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are either being compelled to return home or hardly finding suitable jobs these days. Some countries even impose restrictions on hiring foreign workers.
Since the late 1970s, the number of Bangladeshis going abroad with jobs increased over the years. The country sent abroad 564,000 jobseekers in 2006-07 and 792,000 in 2007-08 and after a decreasing trend, the manpower export rose to 905,000 in 2016-17.The subsequent two years witnessed a decline in securing overseas jobs in the conventional markets by the Bangladeshis. Meanwhile, the developed industrialised countries of the West have seen rise of leaders who speak and act against immigrants and foreign workers.
The ones, who have migrated from Bangladesh and are already serving the advanced economies, are basically technically capable youngsters, moneyed men and in some cases highly educated people.
Despite facing anti-immigration sentiment, these Bangladeshis are the people who proved their utility to the employers and governments of the West, be it the US, Germany, the UK or Australia. The Bangladeshis have also formed expatriate communities in cities such as Toronto, Sydney, Christchurch, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and not to mention New York and London where they are huge communities of expatriates.
However, the Bangladeshis, mainly the students and immigration seekers, face difficulties in going to those countries. But many of them, if not most, can meet institutional requirements there and are given visa on that basis. That confirms that there are genuine ways to go abroad with dignity.
This outflow, some people would argue, is a process of brain drain. BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) is said to be an institution that caters to the needs of the Western tech companies by producing engineers who all cannot find suitable jobs in the country.
There are other arguments as well. What would these engineers do unless they are employed abroad? Absence of such opportunities would have ruined their merit and life.
Rather, the pursuit of higher studies by Bangladeshi students on different disciplines at western universities and their experience in serving reputed companies and organisations have made them equipped with sophisticated knowledge which they could have applied back home, had there been any reasonable scope.
And their current assignments at educational institutions and high-paying companies outside the country create opportunities for their relatives, friends and neighbours. Some are becoming entrepreneurs, initiating start-ups in many cities around the world.
On the other hand, Bangladeshis have not yet captured, at home, as many positions as they should have and their knack for pursuing a career abroad. Many graduates do not even find employment at mid-management and technical positions of readymade garment and knitwear factories, whereas foreigners from the neighbouring countries are hired for such positions with high amount of compensations.
Lower quality of our secondary, and even tertiary, education leaves long-term negative effects on life, career, family and society. Let's not deny that foreign education is also important for attaining higher level of competence in different jobs.
Except the children of some affluent and conscious middle class families, the students generally suffer for lack of skills and knowledge in foreign languages, especially English. Otherwise, higher number of students could have qualified for enrolment with or outsourced jobs at the best institutions in the world and emerged as top earners in the respective countries.
The policymakers need to focus on teaching of foreign languages such as Spanish, French, Chinese and Arabic alongside English to help the youth to tap job opportunities in service and other sectors of various countries and do business with them. Bangladesh's demographic dividend has to be drawn, but not entirely at home.
Maybe, 10 million out of over 160 million Bangladeshis are now living and working in different countries, approximately 2.5 million of them permanently. As the country's huge population is considered part of global supply chain and as international consumers, they may be enabled to explore opportunities wherever possible.