Experts say skills key to unlocking Bangladesh's potential

Bangladesh is on the way to becoming a middle-income country, but increases in wages need to be offset by increases in productivity, and workers need better skills, experts said at an ILO-supported round table on Technical and Vocational Education and Training Reform in the capital on November 16, 2014.

News | 25 August 2015
During his keynote presentation, Sayed Manzur Elahi, Chairman, Apex Group, focused on the need to reduce poverty in the country, saying the increasing productivity was a way to achieve that.

“The per capita income in Bangladesh is already around one thousand dollars. The government is trying very hard to become an export-led economy. In order to increase our GDP though, we need to decrease poverty – which is a big challenge considering our population.” Sayed Manzur Elahi said.

We must focus on increase our productivity, which the ILO has been helping us with”.

“The government is very sincere about skill development, and about adopting the demand-driven approach being promoted by the ILO,” said the business leader.

Mr Shafquat Haider, Chairman, Information Technology Industry Skills Council, highlighted that the need for skills was not only in major sectors;

Skills are required all around, but we as a nation cannot currently address skill education properly.
“We need to improve, and we need to consider all sectors, not just the big ones” he said.

“Even if some sectors are comparably smaller, if people are skilled and trained, better productivity and efficiency will result in growth and therefore more jobs opening up.

Mr Haider also spoke about higher-level personnel; “Skill development is required not only in worker level, but in managerial level too.”

AKM Bari, Chairman, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Skills Council, suggested that skills need to become the backbone of the nation.

“The lack of skill in this country is hampering our national goals.” He said.

Syed Nasim Manzur, President, Leather Goods and Footwear Manufacturing Association of Bangladesh said “labor costs are low in Bangladesh, which makes it a good market, but productivity is also low. To achieve growth, we must raise wages, and to do that, our productivity needs to rise”.

He also spoke about lessons learnt in skilling the workforce in the leather sector; “there was a severe worker shortage several years ago in the leather industry. We were 70-80 thousand workers short. We have now fixed that, and implemented a long-term solution for skills in our sector. There are four conditions to be fulfilled in skill development education; practical industry involvement, industry-centred curriculum design, assurance of jobs after graduation and government-recognised qualifications.

Salauddin Kashem Khan, Co-Chairperson, National Skills Development Council, urged participants to think about the returns skill development can bring;

“Bangladesh has the lowest skill set in South Asia. This needs to change. Investment has to be made where it will bring returns. I request the government to invest in skill development. It has returns. If the government invests in skill development in madrasas, trainees can get work in the Middle East.

Mr Khan also highlighted the importance of inclusive skill development, and asked ILO to continue their work in promoting equal access to skills for all, saying,

10% of our population is disabled. You have to bring them into the work force. Decentralization of skills education is an urgent issue. Skill development is needed at the grassroots level.
Farooq Ahmed, Secretary, Bangladesh Employers Federation, raised the issue of perception of skills education, saying “people think that vocational education is only for poor people. Why do not we introduce vocational courses in the mainstream schools, English medium schools, and Madrasas? These courses can be introduced alongside mainstream education”, he said.

Srinivas B Reddy, Country Director, ILO Bangladesh, assured participants that skills are a key priority of the ILO and thanked the government for formulating new skills policies.

“Graduates are still coming out and not getting jobs, but that is starting to change. We piloted realistic, market-driven programmes for people with disabilities through CRP and it was a success – and we are continuing those models. I want to assure all that we are part of this reform agenda and working with others to improve this sector. We understand that it is not training centers that should decide in isolation what training should be delivered, it is the private sector which should be asked,” said Mr Reddy.

Christian Tardif, Head of Development Cooperation, High Commission of Canada, expressed Canada’s support for skills, and highlighted the importance of technical education being accessible to a variety of groups.
More women need access to skill training. Workers, managers, and migrant workers all need to be trained up. Language training should be given to expatriate workers. Engaging people with disabilities also needs to be at the forefront. We can even talk about skills for prisoners, he said.

Pierra Mayaudon, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh talked about the achievements of Bangladesh, but how skills are needed to progress that further;

“Bangladesh’s economic growth is good and they have made significant progress towards achieving the MDGs. Bangladesh may achieve their target of becoming a middle income country before 2021, and GSP could mean quota free access to the EU market – but skills are a crosscutting issue which need to be addressed.”

Md. Nazrul Islam Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of Bangladesh, spoke about how education and training are both important, for they have different purposes.

“I think university life and the real world should be matched. An incubation period needs to be introduced, where students can work and start businesses that they can apply once they graduate. Graduates are coming out without planning.”

Md. Shahjahan Mian, Director General, Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) and National Project Director, B-SEP Project and TVET Project ended the program with a vote of thanks.