The need for skill development irrespective of the economic base of countries --developed or developing -- cannot be overemphasised. However, for countries like ours skill is often synonymous with major accomplishments that determine the level of economy. This is because it is a multi-dimensional catalyst that leaves its invaluable effect on society at large in scores of ways.
The recent visit of the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Mr. Li Yong to Dhaka has been particularly important as he stressed on skill development as a decisive path to make Bangladesh a global manufacturing hub. In this context, he particularly mentioned that as the global manufacturing facilities are gradually moving out of China, there are huge opportunities for countries like Bangladesh. He also emphasised the demographic dividend Bangladesh is currently set to benefit from the significant number of young people in the country. In an exclusive interview with the FE, he said utilising such opportunities would require turning this young population into a highly skilled workforce with adequate training.
Apart from skill development, the UNIDO chief also underscored the need for using state of the art technologies as well as making adequate investment in research and development to enhance the quality of local industrial products. The UNIDO chief also expressed his optimism regarding the huge potential of agro-processing industry in Bangladesh. However, he underlined the need for further value addition and diversification of agro-based products as well as linking of the agriculture sector with local and global value chain.
The issue is believed to be gaining importance on the government's development agenda. The initiative of the government to provide skill development training to 1.5 million people, in phases, is a case in point, and indeed a step in the right direction. Skills are required at home in all conceivable spheres of productivity. Equally important, skills are required for the ex-pat workforce seeking better employment overseas.
The key issue is about developing a national culture for nurturing and developing skills that only can turn humans into human resource. This is because there is, as yet, 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 industrial productivity languishing in deficiencies mostly from lack of sufficient skills on the part of the manpower engaged at various tiers.
While deficiencies in skilled human resource at home are made up by large intake of foreigners in various productive sectors, export of unskilled workers abroad is fated to fetch very little 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 factories. Most of the jobs, as reports say, are not at all high-tech, but require thorough knowledge about machinery and equipment. According to the finance minister the country has to spend about $4 billion a year from its foreign currency reserve for paying overseas employees.
It is in this context that the aforesaid move to train a large workforce in various spheres of skill development deserves attention. The project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) aims at improving productivity through intensive skill development training in both the public and private sector. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is partnering the project. Of the 1.5 million people who are to be trained, more than a quarter million are expected to be trained by the end of 2017 in the first phase of the programme and 70 per cent of them would be provided with gainful jobs. Training would be provided by the institutions under both public and private sectors like Department of Technical Education, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, BGMEA, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, Small and Medium Enterprise Foundation and non-government organisations. BGMEA would provide training to 43,000 people in the garment sector at mid and entry levels.
Although there is no arguing that skilled manpower can cater to the needs at home as well as abroad, attention should be focussed on sector-specific needs. While broadly, it is the manufacturing sector that needs the immediate focus, attention has to be paid on selective areas to start with, and should be followed up by technology-backed hands-on learning as a continuous process. The private sector does have a great role to play here to increase the pool of well-skilled workforce.
This can be further reinforced only if skill development is considered integral to government policies. To start with, there has to be a thrust on vocational learning which, unfortunately is down the drains under the weight of undirected (if not misdirected) education system of the country. There is thus a strong need for advocacy programmes to attract more and more youths to 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.
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