The much-heralded public-private partnership (PPP), despite its huge synergic potential for collaborative investment and enterprise, has yet to make any tangible headway. In fact, one could almost say that past its teething time, it is still stuttering.
The concept would have to be taken out of the box, reinvented and applied in areas where there is need for it and also a better chance of reaping dividends. Economists have called for PPP between the government and the private employers for training geared to skill development, especially for apprentice and mid-level employees.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), speaking recently at a technical session on the sidelines of Dhaka Summit on Skills, Employability and Decent Work, made a few useful observations: If there is any trust gap between the government and the private employers it has to be bridged. We shall have to take a 'strategic approach' to imparting training based on surveys of skills needed within the country as well as for overseas employment.
Most of the two million entering the job market every year are unskilled, and therefore, unemployable. A World Bank study released recently has portrayed a slice of the employment situation thus: University graduates account for 55.78 per cent of 'decent jobs' and more than 30 per cent of decent jobs go to SSC and HSC passed persons. 'Decent jobs' mean permanent jobs with written contracts, 'decent' working hours including institutional features like leave, pension and termination notice. The vast majority of the others are outliers. This critical mass will have to be trained into manpower and mainstreamed into society and the economy.
There are two missing links: One, between the job market in general and the education system; and two, between the demands of industry in particular and the turn-outs from educational institutes. For instance, the ready-made garment (RMG) sector in 2014 had searched for 70,000 textile engineers but ended up getting only 5000.
The huge gap between demand and supply results from preference for higher, even generalised education at the expense of technical or vocational learning. It is the latter that helps create diploma-holding mid-rung technicians. They are the sheet-anchor of a country's industry, infrastructure and service sector.
South Korea owes its present economic standing to the huge investments it had made in the past for sagacious add-ons to its technical manpower base. Actually, such emphasis on technically-weighted education is common place in the developed world. Given our youngsters being techno and science savvy, we must get a move on to have strings of vocational training institutes spread across the country.
Traditionally, at the family and social levels, there is a culture treating education as a pathway to high-end jobs and a marker of sophistication. In the process, the choices are confined to certain courses of study which produce more graduates than can be absorbed in the economy. What a waste of time and resource! Overall, education is reduced to a certificates-only pastime for the majority.
In this context, we note that the European Union (EU) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) on December 12 announced a modest but directional project worth 20 million Euros to help build Bangladesh's vocational education infrastructure. What Pierre Mayaudon, the EU ambassador in Bangladesh, said on the occasion of the launch of the Skills21 Project is noteworthy.
The project is designed to let Bangladesh develop its own 'effective and efficient vocational training model, which does not exist today.' There are tried and tested vocational training models in Germany and Switzerland but those cannot be applied to Bangladesh, maintained the EU ambassador. Adding he said, "They need to be customised to the Bangladeshi reality. This not a simple process at all."
We believe, it won't be difficult for our relevant policy planners and think-tanks to come up with the right model here.