GLOBAL mega trends such as the rising role of technology, climate change, demographic shifts, urbanisation, and the globalisation of value chains are changing the nature of work and skills demands to succeed in the 21st century labour market. Low skills perpetuate poverty and inequality. When done right, skills development can reduce un- and underemployment, increase productivity, and improve standards of living. Helping people to develop and update their skills makes economic sense. One in three of Bangladesh’s 170 million people is aged between 10 and 24 years, and the country is well in place to reap the benefits of this demographic dividend. However, challenges are manifold, including how we think the youth feels about what they should be focusing on. While I work with adolescents and youth every day, reaching about 1.5 lakh youngsters through BRAC’s skills training programme, I hear many stories of struggles. Addressing these struggles may just be the key to arming the youth for the future. A formal youth panel discussion has given me some much-needed perspective in this regard. The participants comprised project-based-training graduates employed in informal jobs, technical and vocational trainees and graduates, as well as university students.
The questions that the youth raised, if taken into account, can help to address the challenges associated with enabling them to be ready for the next frontier. Several factors are seen before considering a nation developed. They are human development, political stability, gross domestic product, industrialisation and freedom. Reviewing these factors, it is possible to bring rapid development of the nation through industrialisation and human development by utilising the young population of Bangladesh. Right now Bangladesh is passing through the phase of demographic dividend that emerged in 2007. According to the UNFPA, the economic growth potential can result from shifts to a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population. In other words, it is a boost in economic productivity that occurs when the number of people in the workforce is more than the number of dependent. At present more than 65 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are working age. Almost 49 per cent is among the age of 24 or less. This 49 per cent is the future of the nation. By aiming the fourth industrial revolution and to make Bangladesh a developed country, it is high time these youths were turned into skilled manpower.
To turn them into skilled manpower, the government should provide them with quality education and training. At the same time, job opportunities should be created for them. With quality education, these youths need a befitting job market. According to data from the National Employment Policy 2020 (draft), around 26 lakh people seek to join in the job market in Bangladesh every year. The majority of this working population remain unemployed due to a lack of jobs. According to a European Intelligence Unit report, 47 out of every 100 degree holders in Bangladesh are unemployed. Most students in Bangladesh now dream of government jobs as government jobs offer diverse chances, benefits and security. For this reason, students start preparation for government job examinations by memorising the market guide books from the first year, without giving importance to the subject-based reading of their respective subjects in higher education. Moreover, there are not enough subject-based jobs in Bangladesh. That is another reason for the growing disinterestedness in subject-based reading. Because of a rat race behind guide books to qualify in government jobs, an ignorant generation is being created, who are largely ineffective to tackle future challenges. So, besides improving the education system, necessary jobs should be created for these youths; or else these talents will be lost.
Bangladesh wants to achieve the goal of becoming a developed country by 2041. According to the World Population Review, a developed country is a sovereign state with a developed economy and technologically advanced infrastructure. According to the Global Knowledge Index 2020, Bangladesh ranked 117th among 138 countries of the world. Among the eight South Asian countries, Bangladesh ranks last. Moreover, according to university rankings done by different international organisations at different times, the position of Bangladeshi universities is dishearteningly poor. Universities of even the neighbouring countries are doing very well. So, it suggests that the quality of education in Bangladesh needs improvement badly.
To turn these youths into skilled manpower and generate new jobs for them, there are many other challenges for Bangladesh ahead. Right now Bangladesh has a burden of millions of Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh has to safely repatriate them to Myanmar and it is a great diplomatic challenge for Bangladesh. If the Rohingyas are not repatriated to Myanmar soon, in future the situation can become a bigger headache for the nation. Moreover, the Climate Index 2020 suggests that Bangladesh will be the 7th most affected nation due to climate changes. Because of climate change, millions of people in Bangladesh are likely to be displaced. Population is one of the most important factors among the elements of a nation. If a nation knows how to use its population precisely, it can reach the peak of development very rapidly. The working age population of Bangladesh is a very significant resource for the nation. The 49 per cent youths are a blessing for the nation. It is high time the government focused on their development. Quality of education, along with technical education, should be given Importance. The government should also help the young entrepreneurs.
The youths should be given proper education and training so that they can be used for the development of the nation or else these youths will become a burden for the nation one day. Besides, changing perceptions about the types of jobs the youth are engaged in and diversifying skills are essential for the youth to be ready for the future world of automation, because traditional jobs may become irrelevant in the years to come. Thus, a skills inventory made with youth groups with diversified skills will help the youth cope with the changing job market.
The education system should be transformed so that academic curricula correspond to market-oriented practical skills, by including technical as well as life skills from very early on. This will enable students to be exposed to practical skills alongside academic curricula. Last but not the least, a changed mindset about skills training is needed to stay relevant in the job market. Certainly there are many more reasons why the youths of Bangladesh are lagging behind, but downgraded education system, unemployment and drug addiction are some of the setbacks which are hindering the progress of our young generation. All these problems are interlinked and within the reach of the government. Albeit the country has dedicated agencies to facilitate youth skills development and employment, there are questions regarding their cordiality to facilitate the youths.
The government must prepare separate policy and plan for the development of the young generation, because without changing their fate Bangladesh will not be able to achieve the desired national progress.
Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a writer and columnist.
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