In modern times, skill development of the workforce is a sine qua non for enhancing productivity in industries of all levels from primary to tertiary. Equipping the workforce employed in industrial, agricultural and all other sectors of the economy with the requisite skills is necessary not only for today, but also for tomorrow.
Skill development is a strategic concern in the national growth and development of all the countries in the world. Prosperity of a nation depends on how many of its people are skilled to work and hence how productive they are. This in turn rests on the level of skills they have acquired and how effectively those skills are used in the production process.
In this regard, skill based education and trainings can be a foundation of decent and efficient work and enhanced productivity in Bangladeshi industries of all types. Interaction between academic qualifications and practical skills help to determine higher wages in the economy. Labour market arrangements are still heavily based on academic educational qualifications. But such qualifications do not always accurately describe the qualification-holder's level of practical skills.
In the practical field, better-skilled individuals with a mid-level educational qualification earn more than low-skilled tertiary academic graduates. At the same time, tertiary academic workers with low practical skills get a higher wage than mid-skilled workers with lower academic qualifications. This trend discourages the necessity of acquiring skills for productivity growth and ensuring quality production.
In reality, presently, as much as 96 per cent of the Bangladeshi labour force has less than secondary academic education, and 66 per cent has less than primary academic education.
The World Bank (WB) has revealed that just 33 per cent of the primary graduates acquire the numeracy and literacy skills they are expected to master by the time they graduate. Moreover, only 0.17 per cent of the workforce has professional degrees in the fields such as engineering and medicine.
Furthermore, a WB survey of 1,000 readymade garments (RMG) factories, out of nearly 5,000 such factories countrywide, has found that in firms located outside Dhaka, lack of adequate and updated skills were the major disadvantage in the sector.
In a 2010 United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) survey, the high rejection rates of Bangladeshi garment products also pointed at low average skills of garment workers. In sectors such as Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES), shipbuilding and pharmaceuticals, part of this Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS), highly skilled professionals are in constant demand.
Bangladesh's performance on literacy rates and secondary school enrolment is extremely poor. This undermines the development of all other sectors of the economy. The basic tasks conducted in all sectors, from RMG to IT Enabled Services, typically need a workforce that comes out of the country's secondary schools and colleges. This workforce can be trained to acquire required skills.
Bangladesh has one of the poorest records of comparators in this respect. In contrast, for example, Sri Lanka has provided a skills environment that allowed RMG firms to quickly move up the value chain. But the choice for Bangladeshi firms is mostly restricted to primary school graduates and high school dropouts. This is a serious drawback in developing the work force of the country to a required level for enhancing productivity and quality of products and services from the country's overall industrial economy.
Hence importance should be attached to skill development of the workforce being employed in different fields of economic activity so that they can produce quality products and services and earn more. Simple general education at whatever level that may be is not enough to employ individuals for gainful employment and to advance the national economy at a satisfactory speed. Bangladesh should set up more technical, vocational and training institutes and at the same time improve the quality of general education at various levels so that the country can meet the growing demand for skilled personnel. This will also help satisfy foreign demand for quality goods through better working environments.
Apart from improving the quality of products, skill development improves the efficiency of production both in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Efficient production reduces the cost of production by saving time and waste during the production process. Reduced production costs of commodities improve competitiveness of products like apparel items in the international market. This benefits the entrepreneurs in the form of improved profit margin, on the one hand, and the workers and employees in the form of higher wages and salaries, on the other.
Sarwar Md Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.
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