Like many other countries in the world, the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the business models in Bangladesh which will have an impact on the employment landscape, and the job market. Many industries are expected to experience a significant effect on jobs, ranging from job creation to job displacement, from enhanced labour productivity to increasing skills gap.
While the change in the job market is inevitable, the question is, how far will it affect Bangladesh as a whole? When asked this question, Shehzad Munim, managing director of one of the largest MNCs in Bangladesh, explained: "Changes in global job market will take place for sure, but may be not so much in the case of Bangladesh. Bangladesh economy is a subsistence economy as majority of the workforce live on the edge and their needs are of basic nature. Last global economic crisis also did not affect Bangladesh economy much. There will be turbulences but not a crash! If we take lessons from the past pandemics, the focus should be to have an able and fit manpower following the pandemic. So, currently, our actions should be on saving lives, containing the virus and making sure the workforce is fit and active after the crisis. 2020 will primarily be a year of just survival for Bangladesh in terms of its population and for businesses. 2021 will open many opportunities and we must be ready for that".
Now, if we consider the imminent global recession and slowdown, some sectors in Bangladesh like the export-oriented companies will be directly impacted. The RMG industry, the backbone of the economy, is already bearing the brunt through disrupted supply of raw materials, delayed shipments, cancelled or suspended orders that led to factory closures. However, due to the fast-changing global landscape and geopolitics, there might also be opportunities coming for nations like Bangladesh.
"Overall, I do not see a massive impact on the garments industry other than an expected consolidation," added Munim who is now serving as managing director of British American Tobacoo Bangladesh (BATB). "Due to the basic nature of the products we make, orders will consolidate to bigger and more efficient factories and smaller and less efficient ones will shut."
These changes will call for focusing on up skilling technical competence of the manpower as well as, its creativity and innovation. Mr. Munim also emphasised the need for upgrading technical skills.
"The need for a technically-enabled labour force will increase at exponential rate and if we are slow in equipping our young generation, then we may just miss the biggest bus for fast-tracking to a middle-income nation," said Munim. "We also need to develop skill for the mid to senior level management. This need is already there as many Indian and Sri Lankan nationals are filling the void, but this void will grow and soon become a Grand Canyon, if we do not take measures fast. Entrepreneurial skill and courage are also something to focus on. In a post-COVID world, we should be courageous enough to create opportunities and not wait for opportunities to come to us".
In the local job market, while the start-ups and small and medium-sized companies have been badly hit by the crisis, the large business houses are also facing the impact. Post-Covid-19, companies will probably be more focused on liquidity and continuity, reducing non-essential expenses, and strategic planning for an uncertain future. This might create a demand for experts, or strategists to help companies revive; financial experts to aid companies plan their cash flows; supply chain specialists to reinvent e-commerce based supply chain; IT specialists and software developers to ensure digital transformation and rolling e-commerce; data analyst and scientists to provide data-based decision-making and predict the trends. Whether one works in a factory or an accounting office in a post-coronavirus world, one needs to be comfortable with the tech tools as well as be able to work with them effectively.
The nature of the change in jobs and skills will depend very much on the industry itself. For example, the financial services sector was already going through a transformation before this crisis as the mobile financial services were taking over the market. This change will only be towards more digitalization and innovation.
Mr. Kamal Quadir, CEO of bKash, the largest Mobile Financial Service (MFS) in the world, emphasised: "While staying alive and keeping a healthy manpower will be the primary objective, the fundamental change will be a nation-building activity. Digital payments, transition from cash on delivery to online payments, wage payments on digital wallets are some of the few shifts that are likely to emerge and sustain in the post-COVID-19 era. Such trends will not only reduce the inefficiencies in the system but also bring in better governance and transparency."
According to Quadir, "Besides, data will be a critical asset. With the right data, companies are able to better predict the impact of future business disruptions and are better able to serve customers with the right products and services during or after any pandemic. In order to use the data effectively, young bright talents with data literacy skills will be needed so they can take better informed decisions".
The media and the entertainment industry have gone through a significant change over the past years which has only accelerated during the lockdown. Sales and manufacturing jobs will need new skills, such as technological literacy, data literacy, automation in producing goods and services and innovation in distribution to consumers.
While discussing the particular skills needed in the post covid 19 dispensation, Khaled Mahmud, an associate professor of IBA, University of Dhaka and Director, MGM Consulting Limited, said: "Those who are already equipped with technical skills will be the front-runners after Covid 19. Many opportunities will be realised based on IT platforms in the coming days. Knowledge or skills on artificial intelligence, programming, electronic document management, photoshop, data entry, and customer communication will be of high demand for freelancing."
He also said: "The world has learned the need for health professionals in a hard way. So, the health sector will be booming. A diploma in this sector might be an added advantage. Health workers will be exported worldwide as well. Good governance will be asked for by many corporations to ensure optimum use of resources. In brief, regular professional skills will always be needed but maybe in a different platform and in a different manner. All of us need to stay sharp and keep our eyes wide open".
A number of students in Bangladesh are due to be graduated in 2020 and aspire to enter the job market. Now, many companies are going into hiring freeze and lay-offs, while some have declined offers made to candidates. Campus recruitment and internship are going to be held. While the immediate career path looks difficult and bleak for the fresh young talents, they could utilize this as a learning. Someone who is going to succeed in a post-coronavirus-world will need to be able to adapt to ever-evolving workplace and have the ability to continuously update and refresh their skills.
Amidst all these challenges and opportunities, how should the young generation and the graduating students prepare themselves to adapt and embrace the changing job market, employment and skill development? There are endless free and open online courses available that will help you improve your skills and be more resilient in crisis and disruptive situations.
While discussing how the youngsters should prepare themselves to face the challenges, Mr. Mahmud gave some suggestions for the graduating students: "The most important learning from this pandemic was minimalism. We have learned to live with minimum necessary things; we found out ways of doing business with minimum costs. Our young generation needs to internalise this learning very well. Job cut is inevitable. Finding regular jobs will be difficult for fresh graduates. Competition for white collar jobs will be fierce. As working from home has become a norm, a salary cut will also happen. These should not frustrate the younger generation. They should prepare themselves for these changes. Covid-19 will also bring lots of opportunities for our service industry. They should change their mindset set from getting a job to being an entrepreneur. They should use phones to cultivate their useful networks for opportunity rather than spending hours in social media. Our young generation should practice the habit of a healthy diet and regular exercise as well. These will boost up their morale".
While one needs to pursue the desired job or career that ensures prosperity and success, at the same time, one would also need to prepare himself/herself to face the challenges and uncertainties and grab the opportunities to learn to learn from failures, from challenges and disruptions and apply them to move ahead.
Dr. Melita Mehjabeen is associate professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka.
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