In today's fast-changing world, agility and future-readiness are critical components of building economic resilience and staying ahead in the race of competitiveness. According to the "Future of Jobs" report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), increased disruption is expected around the world not just to business models but in traditional labour market due to the recent development in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, genetics and biotechnology. For this reason, the WEF highlighted a number of core competencies to thrive in the coming years. These include: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and last but not the least cognitive flexibility. As a result, the global focus is shifting and business leaders, educators and governments are becoming proactive in up-skilling and retraining the work force.
Recently, the Bangladesh Employers' Federation (BEF) and the UNDP have jointly undertaken a study on Capacity Needs Assessment of the industrial sectors focusing on the capacity level of the management and technical professionals of Bangladesh. The study covered 34 industrial sub-sectors spanning 18 manufacturing and 16 service industries and received responses from 307 individuals from more than 150 institutions. Major trade bodies, sectorial associations, academic practitioners and institutional authorities involved in skills development, capacity building and training were among the respondents. They covered most of the major industrial sectors identified as the priority and emerging fields. The respondents were from a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs and management professionals covering a number of top business leaders, CEOs, department heads and HR practitioners.
The study found that the requirement for competency level of professionals varies based on the industry-specific needs. However, the gaps in competency have been observed in some export-oriented industries, especially in the readymade garment sector. The study identified 10 major areas where a large share of managers and technical professionals in Bangladesh reported having weaknesses in competencies. These areas are: communications, strategic thinking, market forecast, marketing and promotion, initiative, product development, innovation and creativity, critical analysis, sales planning and operations management. As a result, organisations are occasionally hiring expatriate professionals and experts. Though the reason behind the hiring of expatriate professionals is not only always related to their technical or managerial skills but also because they have the required theoretical education and practical experience on the latest technology trends, which are required by local industries in order to survive and grow in the competitive global market.
Nevertheless, the study also highlighted the fact that local professionals are swift learners as well and if an opportunity is offered, it is quite possible to advance the competency of the local work force. The study also mentioned that local professionals lack self-motivation due to inadequate incentive and initiatives from the employers. Furthermore, sometimes top executives solely focus on quick turnover rather than creating a sustainable business and thus, limit the development of competencies of lower and mid-level professionals.
Although some initiatives have already been taken in Bangladesh to address these issues, it is far from adequate. First of all, increased allocation has to be ensured in both the education and health sector in Bangladesh as these two sectors create the foundation for a robust stock of human capital in any country. Secondly, a shift in the mindset of people is required as it can act as the principal catalyst to transform the overall human capital scenario of Bangladesh. A combined effort is required from all the stakeholders to cultivate the culture of innovation and growth mindset in Bangladesh. This will enable companies to think about sustainability and ensure compliance and consequently, professionals will feel motivated to nurture critical thinking and engage themselves in lifelong learning. Thirdly, increased measures must be taken to protect intellectual property rights and ensure proper recognition for inventors. This area requires special attention since, Bangladesh ranked 116th among 126 countries and became the least-innovative country in Asia, according to the Global Innovation Index report of 2018.
Finally, a number of countries are already benefitting from the triple helix model of innovation where academia, industry and governments are working together to foster economic and social development. Some countries have even further extended the model and combined civil society and media as fourth and natural environment as the fifth element. Therefore, creating such a meaningful collaboration might also help Bangladesh enhance the fundamentals of competitiveness and become resilient to future shocks.
Rafiqua Ferdousi is Research Economist, SANEM