Skilled manpower is one of the most precious resources the human civilization has ever produced. The real prosperity of a country depends much on its industrial base and industrial base, in turn, depends on technical know-how. Education and skills are indispensable for a faster economic and social progress of a country. A skilled workforce is an invaluable asset of any nation that helps in bringing enhanced productivity, global competitiveness, increase in income and reduction of poverty.
There are few countries in the world that are poor in natural resources but rich in industrial output. Take the case of Japan – the third-largest economy in the world. Barring hydro-electricity, Japan is almost devoid of natural resources. What this country has is skilled manpower evolved through a long and grueling path stretching from 1868 to the late 1980s. During the Meiji period, viz. between 1868 to 1912 Japan made an overwhelming investment in skill development in order to transform its manpower at par with those in Europe and the U.S.A.To be frank, that period formed the genesis of its ever-increasing exposure to modern industrialization. On the contrary, there are countries, for example, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Bolivia, etc. which have still remained as least developed countries in spite of them having abundant natural resources. This is because these nations have not been able to make proper use of their wealth mainly owing to lack of technical knowledge.
Bangladesh needs skill development both in formal and informal sectors for additional job creation and on-the-job capacity building. As per Household Income and Labour Force Survey, 2017 carried out by Bangladesh Bureau Statistics, 80 percent of our total employed population aged 15 and above was in the informal sector. And this is why enough emphasis needs to be put on building skills of those engaged in informal and formal sectors.
There are different training institutes in our country in the field of skills development including those awards training to potential expatriate workers. Technical and vocational training is being provided by over 13000 training centers and nearly 1.3 million people receive training on about 87 trades every year.
This is, however, not enough to enhance the skills given the existing potential workforce of ours. There are certain weaknesses in the skills development arena such as mismatched training programs, especially in dealing with overseas jobs, skills not commensurate with tertiary and higher jobs in or apparel, textile, pharmaceuticals and other highly skilled-oriented and IT sectors and lack of standardized small courses, say, trade courses. Poor skills obviously lead to poor wages both at home and abroad.
The latest skills development policy of Bangladesh highlights the importance of coordinated efforts to attain its middle-income status by 2021. The policy is intended to reach all age groups with internationally comparable skills. It also focuses on the availability of resources needed to cater to skill requirements both at home and abroad. Our economy depends a lot on the remittances sent by a good number of workers working abroad.It is of utmost importance to focus on the particular types of skills needed in the countries of destination. If our expatriate workers are equipped with those skills, not only will it help enhance their wages but also increase their productivity. The Bangladeshi migrant workers on average earn around USD 4500 annually as against USD 6500 and USD7000 from India and Sri Lanka's respectively. The above statistics reveal glaring differences in terms of earning foreign exchange within the South Asian region which needs to be addressed through the skill development of our people. Indeed, 80 percent of or expatriate workers are half-skilled and un-skilled as well.
Several important trades which require skills development in Bangladesh are, for example, plumbing, welding, carpentry, TV and refrigerator repairing, lacquer polishing, nursing, tourism, food processing, mobile phone servicing, electrical house wiring, glass and mirror fitting, tiles fitting, masonry work, steel furniture fabrication, motorcycle servicing, tailoring and dressmaking. Locally, vocational skills are badly required for the diversification of export-oriented industries, so is the increase in wage levels of our expatriate workers.
On the other hand, knowledge of international languages, especially English, Arabic, and French is one of the key matters pertaining to the pursuit of overseas jobs. In a globalized world, fluency in a number of languages certainly opens up a lot of avenues in international job markets. Similarly, knowledge of computer literacy can enhance earnings through online job creation. Despite our commendable around 6 percent-plus growth rate for many years and remarkable progress in human and social sectors, still, we do not have skilled manpower worth mentioning. There seems a mismatch between the education or skills institutions award and the skills our emerging industrial sector calls for. No doubt, there is something seriously wrong with the whole education system which needs to be overhauled given the growing demand of our booming industrial sector. It is time that our academics and intelligentsia did some fresh thinking about the whole thing because people with paper education which do not match the job field are of very little use to the nation.
More and more skills development centers are required in Bangladesh with each upazilla having at least two or three technical and vocational training institutes so as to impart the prospective youths with industry-based skills at an affordable cost. Every year around 1.3 million young people are adding to the labor force about half of whom are women. To achieve a better workforce, there is no alternative to building skill-oriented people irrespective of their gender.
But the success of technical education depends a great deal on practical training. So, the theoretical knowledge gained in training institutes or colleges should be coordinated with practical experience in firms and factories. Another area that needs to be strengthened is industry-based skills development programs that cater not only to the current needs but also to the future needs of our booming businesses. To that end, curricula should be drawn up in consultation with academics, civil servants, industrialists and other stakeholders engaged in trade and commerce. Unfortunately, we are grossly lagging behind other emerging economies of the world with respect to skills and quality education which might pose a serious bottleneck towards our march of becoming a poverty-free higher middle-income country by 2030. And, the sooner this defect is remedied, the better.