The sight of thousands of youths vying for a job in Bangladesh is not unusual. Even 40 applications for the job of a junior lecturer in a university and that in a highly technical subject like electronic and electronic engineering must make the country's planners worried. In lower category jobs, usually meant for those who passed the secondary and higher secondary certificate exams, the number of applicants is whopping. And think of the fate of hundreds of thousands who pass SSC, HSC, degree exams and complete university studies every year. The vast number of educated youth failing to get jobs is only a tip of an emerging catastrophe. The passed-out students and their families know how painful their unemployment is.
What is really alarming is the fact that today nearly one-third of the youths are either unemployed or underemployed. This leaves a large chunk of potential labour of the country unutilised or underutilised. The situation is worse in the case of female youths having a higher rate of unemployment than their male counterparts in spite of their educational achievement.
But experts say youths, aged between 15 and 29, who constitute over one-fourth of the total population, could be made into assets for the country if they could be trained well. Bangladesh enjoys a very youthful population. If equipped with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to take informed actions at the individual, household, community and national levels, the young people of today could spearhead inclusive and sustainable development.
Statistics say, of all groups in the labour force, youths aged 15-19 years have the highest rate of unemployment, more than four times the rate of unemployed people aged 35 and above, as per a survey. According to the World Population Prospects charted out by the UN Population Division, the youth population of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) was 24.8 percent in 1970, 28.4 percent in 1990 and 28.7 per cent in 2015. However, the proportion of youths will go down to 18.1 percent in 2055, according to the UNFPA's prediction.
It is really unfortunate that there is still no link between the country's educational institutions and industries. India has been following the university-industry collaboration for many years. They have strong industrial attachment programmes in their education curricula. We too have to build a consistent partnership where both the industry and university will have a stake for a particular outcome.
There are great opportunities in creating entrepreneurship among young people in Bangladesh. The young minds can really make a difference. They can be employers. Instead of waiting for employers, they can create jobs on their own. Daffodil University Chairman Sabur Khan has initiated such a programme in his university and this should be replicated in other universities.
As there will be thousands of industries in the planned 100 economic zones, the government should take initiatives right at this moment to assess job opportunities in such zones. After all, the economic zones will offer huge employment opportunities for Bangladeshi youths, but then this potential workforce has to be tuned to the requirements inside the zones. Here the government can play a very positive role in assessing such needs and take up programmes in universities to produce required human resource.
Often we see different career fairs where the students are asked what they would want to do with their education. The organisers only see blank looks in their eyes. Because what they want is a job and a monthly salary which is a pity. They really need to dream big and reach somewhere.
There is very little research on the real situation of employment of our young graduates. If we look at sector-wise employment generation we will see agriculture is still at the top with 47 per cent employment generation rate followed by service sector which is 37 per cent and industrial and manufacturing sector- 14 per cent. We are clearly lagging behind in terms of industrial and manufacturing sector-led employment.
Bangladesh has a total workforce of about 85 million with 42 per cent young population. Creating employment opportunities for such a large number of workforce is indeed a daunting task. The onus of preparing the students for good jobs and develop their potential lies primarily with the educational institutes, including universities. And it is for the industries to create employment opportunities for them. There should be a platform where universities will understand the needs of industries and industries will find research and resources for further development. The young graduates of the country will be able to get the best of this partnership.
They need to orient their students about job market from the very beginning so that they can prepare themselves to face the challenges of tomorrow. The second dimension is to review course curriculum and how these programmes are relevant to meet the demand of our industry. Most of the business cases and examples are taught from western perspective but we should also promote local success stories and cases. The third dimension is to continuously develop our faculties and many of them are not aware about emerging industries. Universities should take structured approach in developing the capabilities of faculties, and industry must play its role by offering insights and exposure.