No doubt that in the post-covid period skill requirement for employment will be under a stricter scanner in view of the many changes that have significantly reshaped ways of doing things, especially in respect of businesses. There is a possibility that things may not at all return to what were commonly accepted practices in the pre-Covid times. While offices, educational institutions experienced the most extraordinary shifts in their ways of functioning, business operations, particularly marketing, underwent a spectacular change mainly through online sales. It has been a compulsive push towards digitistion in many areas of our daily activities-- for nearly two years. Given the reality, it is quite logical to see a demand for shifting patterns of skills in jobs.
It has been learnt that the government is about to launch a country-wide training programme for skill development with particular focus on catering the post-Covid job market for women and the underprivileged. A project recently approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has been designed to provide training on various emerging technologies to more than half a million people. With the World Bank (WB) providing 60 per cent of the cost, the project is set to be completed by the end of 2026. In anticipation of increased use of technology for various purposes in the post-Covid era, the training programme, according to Ecnec sources, is meant to mainly concentrate on technology-based leaning. Depending on the varying levels of the participants, the programme will expose the learners to digital technology, financial management, industrial management, among others.
Developing skills is an open-ended issue. Although it is initially the job market at home and abroad that comes to mind, the idea of skill development is integral to the making of efficient human resource that beside taking care of itself can contribute to the economy in myriad forms and shapes. It is here that skill is essentially a matter of developing individuals, preferably the youths, in the various segments of activities. While higher skill is a matter related to the educated groups, less educated groups are the potential target for hands-on skill development.
The key issue is about developing a national culture for nurturing and developing skills that only can turn humans into resources in keeping with the needs of time. This is because there is no known or lately innovated shortcut to skill development. A continuous process, it calls for a persistent and comprehensive planning. Stray efforts in the name of skill development do not pay in the long run. Examples are aplenty of training programmes languishing in deficiencies mostly due to lack of up-to-date and time-befitting training lessons. As a result, we are yet to see any noticeable improvement in meeting prevailing skill-gaps in various spheres of productivity.
While deficiencies in skilled human resource at home is made up by large intake of foreigners in various productive sectors, export of unskilled workers abroad fetches far less than would be possible in wages and salaries. In both cases, it is the lack of value addition that ultimately costs the country heavily.
It has been found that the country's garment sector alone hires the services of thousands of ex-pat personnel to supervise the day-to-day running of the factories. Most of the jobs, as reports say, are not at all high-tech, but require thorough knowledge about machineries and equipment. According to reports the country spends about $4.0 billion a year from its foreign currency reserve for paying overseas employees. On the other hand, Bangladeshi workers in foreign lands are mostly engaged in the low-end wage bracket for want of required skills that otherwise could have fetched them much higher incomes accompanied with other perks such as job security, medical and health insurance facilities.
Although there is no arguing that skilled manpower can cater to the needs at home and abroad, attention should be on sector-specific needs. One can hope to see this achieved only if skill development figures as integral to government policies. There is thus a strong need for advocacy programmes to attract more and more youths to training institutes where their learning will pay them gainfully in seeking jobs as well as in running independent production units or businesses, as the case may be. Thus, there is the critical need to have the vocational and technical institutes under scanner to examine their capacities and resources in providing skills training. Chances are high that many of them will need more resources in terms of technology and manpower to steer skill-building in the right direction.
One of the important issues that must not be lost sight of is that Bangladesh, given its demographic advantage at the moment, is better suited than most other countries to reap the benefit of having a large pool of skilled population. Currently, around 76 per cent of our population is within the working age bracket while around 2.1 million people are being added to the workforce each year. Such increase in workforce gives us leverage in terms of demographic dividend while also allowing us to export additional human resource abroad.
The skill development project approved by the Ecnec should be implemented in a targeted manner by assigning training institutes in both the public and private sectors responsibilities for achieving sector-specific objectives-- including tech-based skills development.