A decade of 'up-skilling' Bangladesh's skills sector

This op-ed has been written by Kishore Kumar Singh, Chief Technical Adviser and Manas Bhattacharyya, Specialist, Policy Develop, Governance and SWAP, Skills 21 project, ILO Bangladesh and published on The Financial Express

Feature | 07 August 2020
For close to a decade, Bangladesh's 2011 National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) has been the cornerstone of the comprehensive TVET and skills reforms taking place across the country. The Policy - initially developed with support from the ILO's EU-funded TVET Reform Project - has led to significant innovations and improvements in the country's skills sector, alongside increased capacity and will. Noteworthy achievements include a modern, 'demand-driven' skills system; greater private sector engagement in skills demand 'identification'; improved curriculum design and assessments; better provisions for competency-based training and assessments through nationally recognised qualifications; a more robust and credible apprenticeships system; the introduction of a 'Recognition of Prior Learning' scheme; and crucially, greater access and inclusion of disadvantaged and minority groups.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), with support from the European Union (EU), is currently working with the government to establish an internationally recognised Bangladesh Qualification Framework (BQF), one that combines technical and general education into an integrated framework. With such a certificate in hand, skilled workers can seek decent work abroad with greater pay and greater protections. This will not only help boost their income but the nation's remittance figures too.

Taking into account the many changes in Bangladesh since 2011, the ILO, in collaboration with scores of stakeholders continues to support the government in updating the 2011 National Skills Policy. In a fast-moving world, these reforms need to respond to the 2030 SDGs; the future of work in the context of IR4.0; the green economy; the 'digital divide'; and life-long learning and entrepreneurship opportunities.

The fundamentals, however, remain the same. Bangladesh's skills policy needs to be inclusive, demand-driven, context-specific and most of all, implementable and accessible.

One global change that few could have foreseen was the impact of Covid-19 on this integral sector. Since mid-March 2020, the entire education sector has come to a 'virtual' standstill. The government has responded to the challenge with a swift shift to a hybrid form of off-line and on-line TVET education. The ILO's Skills 21 project has supported the Directorate of Technical Education, Ministry of Education to formulate a TVET Covid-19 response plan to help repurpose their skills delivery, rework their resources and rapidly mobilise additional resources. Similarly, Skills 21 has pivoted its portfolio of work in teaching online and embracing e-learning.

The on-going Covid-19 crisis has jolted the good progression made to date. However, it may turn out to be a hidden blessing if it helps galvanise all stakeholders - the government, development partners and local institutions - to come together in a coordinated effort to better manage the incoming funds and the technical support. This momentum can help build a more resilient and responsive skills sector.

Each month millions are losing their jobs in both the formal and informal sector; decent work will be harder to come by for millions of workers. These unemployed workers, including returnee migrants, will require reskilling, up-skilling and recognising and certifying their existing skill sets. This can help pave the way for them to enter the local job market or move abroad to countries that require skilled workers in the care-giving industry, agro-food production or building ICT infrastructure.

Much has been done over the past decade; yet much more needs to be done in the coming decade if Bangladesh is to create a certified, competitive and competent workforce equipped for the future world of work.