Friday, 29 October, 2021

Skill Development of Workers for Post-corona New Normal Situation

Md. Abul Kalam Azad

Skill Development of Workers for Post-corona New Normal Situation

From December 30 of 2019 till first half of May more than 3 lakh expatriates are back from different parts of the world, especially the Middle East. A good number of them are in the pipeline; we don’t know how big the line is. Will it be only from Middle East or from other parts of the globe also? After Corona will we still enjoy the demographic dividend? What would be the workforce demand in the New Normal after Corona? How we need to prepare?

We have about 13 million expatriates in 174 countries of which the lion’s share is in the Middle East. We know, now the whole globe is trembling with Corona, only USA is about to cross 100,000 with a global toll of more than 315K. When it will stop, where it will take us none knows. Sometimes fact is more unbelievable than fiction. Who in this world would imagine that USA would loss more its citizen at home then the Vietnam War? Will there be a second wave? Third wave?

This is sure, joblessness of unimaginable proportion will occur, and it has already started; along with Corona lockdown many production processes have stopped; only in USA 36m people filed application for unemployment claim. Except USA and few others, a good number of countries developed a mechanism that the companies will pay salary to the workers up to August or September and government will reimburse them. USA government gave financial support directly to the jobless citizens. Bangladesh government worked in both the way: direct cash support of 2,500 taka each for 5 million jobless informal sector workers, food support for 12.5 million poor families and 5,000 crore taka financial package for the industries of RMG sector to pay the wages at a nominal rate of interest. Only food and direct financial support covers about half of its 160 million people.

If we consider our expatriate workers, first hit of joblessness is for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Take the case of Middle East, oil price is going minus, Dubai market is almost close, Emirates suspended all its passenger flights, uncertainty of Hajj this year brings a special and challenging situation. For all these reasons, the present demand of manpower has decreased in the Middle East.

For the closure of almost all economic activities except agriculture, a huge number of industry and production process will close sine die; they will fight with bankruptcy. Some scientists predict that Corona will continue to be devastating for at least 2-3 years and with this view economists estimate that impact of Corona will be long lasting.

 After Corona in the New Normal situation, so many industries will come out of China; Japan and Korea already started to find new destinations for investment, many new gadgets and equipment will be required for health and wellbeing. After 2007-2008, recession in general carbon emission dropped sharply but in some areas production was boosted up at a higher rate.  So far we understand in New Normal Situation global demand will not be the same, more Artificial Intelligence will be introduced in repeated production process, capital market will be restructured, and new production culture will be there. It is predicted that future job opportunity is for more health profession and care giver, IT and AI based management, accounting and also in big data, internet of things (IoT) block chain etc. Along with others, pharmaceuticals and health profession will be on prime focus. How much we are preparing for the above mentioned New Normal? How to stop the wave of return of expatriates? What we need to do with the returned expatriates? Answer is very difficult and preparation would be equally robust and challenging.

We have in the last few years structured our organisational arrangements to boost up our skill development activities. National Skill Development Authority (NSDA), Skill for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) project in Finance Ministry, National Human Resource Development Fund (NHRDF), skill training by different Ministry, formation of a GO-NGO-DP backed platform on skill 'Generation Unlimited' (GenU); some are in place and on-going.

NSDA organised as many as 13 Industrial Skill Council (ISC) led by private sector namely Agro food, Ceramics, Construction, Furniture, Informal sector, ICT, Leather and leather goods, Light Engineering, Pharmaceuticals, Ready Made Garments & Textile, Tourism and Hospitality, Creative Media, and Jute sector. In the meantime ISCs have formulated 19 professional standards basing on the needs of the market and prepared training materials. The Skill Development Authority formulated guideline and standard for the training institutes. They have formulated accreditation guidelines, standard for technical training institute and standard curricula. In the meantime NSDA gave registration to 16 institutes to run Skill Course and 43 Institutes will get registration soon. To popularise different skills among the youths, NSDA took initiative for National Skill Competition which is now stopped for Corona. Last year Bangladesh participated for the first time in World Skill Competition held in Kazan, Russia and performed well in fashion and Patisserie & Confectionary. We received ‘Best of Nation Award’ for better participation and performance.

Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) have 70 Technical Training Centres (TTC) all over the country and 40 TTCs are under construction with a target to establish another 60 for skill training for the migrant workers. They run 55 categories of training courses including ship fabrication, auto mechanic, graphic design, civil construction, consumer electronics, RMG related skill, welding, plastic skill, food and food processing. They have partnership with UK, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, Japan and so many to maintain quality training and placement. Only in 2017-2018 they trained about 15 lakh people in short and long course. In 2019 BMET conducted pre departure training for expatriate workers including House Aid for about 6 lakh persons. In their own training centres (TTCs) they can train 4.54 lakh persons every year, and it needs to be enhanced with participation of the private sector.

For self-employment and catering to the local needs, Youth Development Department, Social Welfare Department, Technical Training Institutes both private and public, different NGO including BRAC, UCEP train a huge number of people.

On the other hand, Skill for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) a project under Finance Ministry started its journey in 2014 and is now working with nine priority sectors with a target to train 841,680 persons by 2024. Skill gap analysis was done by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and they identified these nine sectors. Priority sectors are ICT, garments and textile, leather and footwear, construction, light engineering, ship building, agro processing, tourism and hospitality and nursing, care giver and health technology. Along with these nine, later on motor driving with basic maintenance and renewable energy are added. In the meantime, they trained 46,320 drivers. Under the SEIP project, trainees are selected from disadvantaged groups.

Comprehensive SEIP project has been working with an object of market responsive training with quality. Mid and higher level managerial training for migrant workers and re-skilling in host countries is also important part of SEIP. One of the bright examples of SEIP training is that they trained international standard welder, certified by internationally renowned certification organisations and almost all of them now are working outside the country with high salary. So far SEIP project trained about 380,000 persons in different trades and 72% of them have been employed. They have a target to develop 130 Competency Standards (CS), Competency Based Learning Materials (CBLM) and assessment tool. Through British Council and others, so far SEIP developed 87 CS, 60 CBLM and 85 assessment tools and Assessment guide. SEIP is closely working with ISCs, BGMEA, BKMEA, Women Chamber, PKSF and other organisations to develop PPP in skill development. For quality training, they developed 376 Master Trainer and 2,573 trainers in different trades.

The government created ‘National Human Resource Development Fund’ (NHRDF) participated by government, private sector and Development Partners (DPs) under Ministry of Finance. To be more dynamic this fund will function as ‘Not for profit’ company under respective law of the country. 

This is premature to forecast and comment on future needs of manpower globally after Covid-19 but we can understand huge opportunity in investment in 100 Economic Zone and about two and a half dozen of Hi-Tech Park, new sector like research and development in pharmaceuticals, healthy housing, health city, nursing, caregiver, health related other industry, IT, robotics, block chain, internet of things (IOT) etc. would be area of importance. Our huge Economic Zones and Hi-Tech parks have started their journey to establish different category of heavy and Hi-Tech industries and projected to employ about 10 Million people by 2030. All above diverse skills including managerial skills would attract both FDI and local investment.

I mentioned about the study on global and sectoral needs earlier; now along with Covid-19 demand, we have some first-hand idea where we need to develop our people. 

Power division has started training electricians including commercial and industrial expertise and have a target to train about 70 thousand. In the meantime Roads and High Way Division started training of 400K drivers. Ministry of Housing and Public Works planned for 500K construction workers. This is very nice to know that from last January 640 secondary schools started two technical subjects for the students and from January 2021all the secondary schools and madrasas will have at least one technical compulsory subject for the students. They have planned to increase the number of technical subjects in schools and madrasas gradually so that students can choose technical subject basing on their interest and job opportunity. We have about 2,500 teachers of polytechnic institute trained in Singapore and China in modern technology. Moreover, Expatriate Welfare Ministry is relentlessly working to establish 100 Technical Training Centre (TTC) all over the country in addition to 70 existing TTC. Likewise almost all Ministry are working for skill development.

One Public-Private-DP led organisation 'Generation Unlimited' (GenU) coordinate from a2i and Unicef Bangladesh to support all skill development and include people in Bangladesh having seven areas of work: 

1. Migrant workers, 2. Apprenticeship, 3. Entrepreneurship, 4. Under-served people like Kawmi madrasa, imam, vulnerable people, 5. 4IR, 6. mainstreaming technical education and 7. and development of mid-level manager.

It is estimated that already 300 thousand migrant workers returned home after Covid-19 due to joblessness and may be another 500 thousand is waiting to return. We need to re-skill them; at the same time prepare new work force to cater to after Covid-19 demand.

An in-house study estimates that in Bangladesh about 30 million people have become jobless due to Corona. It estimates that in our country about 10 million new jobs will be created after Covid-19.

The government has started reviewing apprenticeship policy and this may create 1 million jobs in next 5 years. Online skill training has been started by 8 ministries and many more will start very soon. A skill portal under a2i has enrolled about 0.4 million job seeker and about 800 companies registered in this platform to get skilled work force. This portal will provide live data soon. For the Kawmi Madrasah, online class in 8,000 madrasah for Dawra Hadith students will start soon.

One of the pessimistic presumptions is that the globe will take at least 5-7 years to be normal. But the very optimistic idea is that more people will be needed after Covid-19. One expert in manpower export sector presumed that demand of semi-skilled worker will rise but the demand of unskilled worker will not reduce drastically. In both the areas our presence is prominent. But demand of high end professionals is already increasing during Covid-19 period, especially ICT sector and it is highly potential.

We need to rise to the occasion taking full benefit of demographic dividend and looking at post-Covid-19 needs of the globe. 

This time, along with unskilled and semi-skilled areas we need to put our attention with equal importance to skilled and high skilled professional training. Mechanism of coordination of skill development under the guidance of Honourable Prime Minister gives us more confidence. As we need to practise New Normal, we are to develop more online training and protocol of practical training maintaining health standard.

Development partners including UN agencies and MDBs may put their resources for skill development and capacity building for both private and public sector organisations. ADB has already participated in SEIP; UN Agencies, World Bank and others are working to ensure their presence in skill development.

NSDA, SEIP, BMET and others need to ensure more skill training with special emphasis to woman in collaboration with internationally reputed organisations and a2i. We understand, in the meantime, both Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Ministries are working to find out post-Covid-19 manpower demand in Asia, Europe and America. With our traditional markets in Middle East and South East Asia we need to look towards China, Cambodia, Russia, Japan and East European Countries. Many African and East European countries having huge land may be interested in modern agriculture with our manpower.

We may motivate our expatriates not to back home unnecessary, need to find the country where more numbers of our expatriates are under threat of joblessness, we may consider to raise our voice and do effective manpower diplomacy. In spite of that a good number of people will return; BMET may immediately start re-skilling programme for them.

BIDA, BEPZA, BEZA and Hi-Tech Park along with all the ministry also need to strengthen their efforts with a specific target in skill development. Private sectors including BRAC and manpower recruiting agencies already have come forward with good standard of skill development which needs to increase in many folds in terms of number of training scope, new areas of skill and international standard.

In conclusion we can say, we have all necessary organisational setups, standard training content, necessary training professional and other resources for skill development. And we have political commitment of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to be a developed country by 2041 and Golden Delta by 2100. We need to start NOW to restructure our skill development activity and strengthen to combat post-Covid-19 development needs. 


The writer is the Former Principal Coordinator (SDG) and Former Principal Secretary.