Job creation, pivotal to economic consolidation and hence growth, is yet to see noticeable signs of progress in the country. Achieving higher level of prosperity which shapes the government's goal of becoming a middle income country has to coincide with plans for poverty alleviation where job creation figures highly prominently.
There is no disputing that more jobs mean an economy better steered. Irrespective of the levels of the economies all over the globe, the bottom line has invariably been the success or failure to create jobs for citizens - at least for the eligible job seekers. However, the grim reality is that job market all over the world is not opening up as it should have.
Although it is not easy to decide on the right approach to quickly fetch economic returns in a country like Bangladesh, job creation is recognised as integrally tied to all other development initiatives, including increased flow of investment and exports. Economists are at one that developing an organised labour market could be critically important for Bangladesh and that the key potential for creating jobs lies in encouraging upward mobility of the relatively unskilled labour through transition from the farm to non-farm sectors. A World Bank report once suggested that the country could set a target of creating additional 15 million jobs in the next ten years by establishing more economic zones in order to be on track to move ahead.
Presently, the number of people entering the job market annually is 2.2 million, and those who are provided with jobs are less than 1.0 million. While this remains a serious problem, there is the need for paying attention to the relatively neglected dimensions of job creation. These among others include skill development for meeting the potential demand for rewarding jobs, especially in export sectors and overseas migration.
Trying to bring a sea change in the job scenario will call for a medium- to long -term strategy. The fact that such job creation has to be in the productive sectors need not be argued. Experts have long been emphasising that Bangladesh must identify potential high-employment generating avenues to lessen the burden on a few labour-intensive sectors such as the readymade garment and agriculture. However, job creation is not an isolated affair: it takes the whole economy to create jobs.
It is often held that for a country like Bangladesh the majority of the new jobs should come from the manufacturing sector. While manufacturing for domestic needs and exports is one aspect, the other with high potential could be manufacturing for overseas companies.
In the wake of the soaring wage structures all over the world including in countries like China, a diversion is most likely to happen by way of relocation of industries to other developing countries, and in such a situation Bangladesh can in all probability be a choice destination.
To rise up to embrace the opportunity, it is crucial that there are newer avenues in the country for the manufacturing sector with job creating potential similar to RMG. But the critical factor that must not be lost sight of is that the opportunity may not last very long.
Rough estimates suggest that at present 22 per cent of the country's work force is employed in the formal sector, while the rest are absorbed in informal sectors where agriculture is still playing a predominant role, but unfortunately resulting in low productivity and low income earnings. Although the manufacturing sector is often recognised as a prospective source for job-creation, agriculture and a host of agro-related sectors including poultry, fisheries and livestock must not be undermined as promising areas capable of absorbing increased number of workforce in the days to come.
There is a general perception that agriculture is an over-saturated sector in the country with little scope to absorb additional manpower. But this does not seem to hold good for the simple reason that seeking a labour-intensive manufacturing sector as an alternative to agriculture is not a ready solution that can be materialised in the short run.
What is important is to increase the productivity of the overall agriculture sector by way of value addition - agro-processing for example, which while providing higher returns can, in turn, fetch relatively higher wages. On the other hand, the manufacturing sector has its own limitations as an employment generator as it is becoming less labour-intensive and more skill dependent due to increasing introduction of newer technologies. The focus for job creation should thus take into account both the sectors.