The challenges, particularly arising out of multiple divides in the education system of Bangladesh, can hardly be overemphasized. The human capital including skills developments cannot be the sole prerogative of the government. Multiple actors, including the private sector, not-for-profit actors, NGOs, civil society, and several development partners that are involved in this sector must also play their due roles.
Bangladesh is currently going through a multi-speed transformation with a passionate dream of becoming a developed country by 2041. The second Perspective Plan clearly sets the milestones including Bangladesh becoming an upper middle-income country in 2031 and then attaining a high-income status in about a decade. This national aspiration originates from its robust economic growth over the last couple of decades, particularly during the post-2009 period. According to a recent Standard Chartered Bank study, the nominal per capita GDP of Bangladesh during 2011-2018 was 9.4%, the highest in emerging economies of Asia. Defying the global pandemic, it maintained that lead with 7% growth leaving both China and India far behind. Remaining largely oriented towards domestic consumption, the economy remains inclusive and sustainable with stunning macroeconomic stability despite some occasional hiccups. The perspective plan (2021-41) also aims at accelerating the productive capacity of the economy primarily through building up a knowledge economy with climate-friendly policies and programs.
Obviously, this aspirational development strategy can only be realized if we can further improve our total factor productivity by creating more jobs without compromising on our desire to accelerate the consistent growth of state-of-the-art export-oriented manufacturing and services as the core area of competitive strength. This possible by making best use of the blended approach of both automation and reskilling of the existing workforce and skilling of the new ones. In addition, the country would like to advance in technological innovations and prepare the workforce accordingly. Recently, Bangladesh has been showing its added ambitions of becoming more climate resilient by pushing entrepreneurial development in renewable energy, other green industries, and agricultural processes with a huge scope of creating more employment for productive and technology-ready human capital including desired skills development.
The fourth industrial revolution is already knocking at our doors. There is, therefore, no option but strengthening our industrial competitiveness if we really mean sustainable growth for our economy. For that matter, we got to focus more sharply on technological innovation and capacity building across the economy. The whole world has now opted for technological transformation for making the just transition to the fourth industrial revolution. All our production and business processes, therefore, ought to change their gears for an ambitious transformation if we want to remain at the same pace with the global economy.
There is no denying the fact that our capacity to apply technologies required for the fourth industrial revolution is indeed limited. This is mainly because of deficit in our desired human capital, quality institutions and aligned infrastructures. Even our best run export-oriented industries (e.g., the apparel sector) also lack the technological prowess with needed productivity of human resources employed. Hence, Bangladesh must be more focused on accelerating skill development to make its economy both competitive and green. However, Bangladesh started investing in skills development substantially with the support of the Asian Development Bank under the Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) only a few years ago. Yet, it has been able to establish a solid ground for further development of the skills for the selected modern industries that may be capable of competing with the global competitors. The program promoted large-scale private sector involvement and public-private partnerships to enhance both basic and mid-level technical skills in about ten priority industries that are in the frontline of global competition. As expected, the program also made strategic attempts at supporting higher education sector for building strong human capital resources for accelerating the desired transformation of the Bangladesh economy.
This program aimed at developing skills of nearly a million unskilled workforce in the priority sectors including ICT, garments and textiles, leather and footwear, construction, light engineering, shipbuilding, agricultural-processing, tourism and hospitality, nursing, caregiver and health technology, motor driving with basic maintenance and Renewable Energy. The main goals of the program are:
- Imparting market responsive, job-ready, and inclusive training for about fifteen manufacturing industries noted above. Various training institutes in the public sector and regulatory institutions like PKSF and Bangladesh Bank (SME Department) are also involved as SEIP partners to deliver skills training through public, private, and non-governmental organizations as implementation partners. The Industry Associations like BGMEA and BKMEA are also involved as facilitators in this skilling and reskilling activities of their workforce to improve labor productivity.
- Strengthening of quality assurance system of the training system by providing equipment, quality trainers, training of trainers in cooperation with appropriate consultants facilitated by British Council and several industry experts. Necessary competency standards, competency-based learning materials and assessment tools have been developed with their help.
- Strengthening institutions for skill development training for making sustainable contributions towards productivity leading to higher economic growth. As envisaged in the National Skill Development Policy 2011, a National Human Resource Development Foundation has been established, thanks to this program led by the Finance Division, to ensure continuous flow of additional funding to deserving training institutions, both private and public. SEIP also helped establish National Skills Development Authority to coordinate and further improve the skills development programs sporadically undertaken by dozens of ministries and divisions. This authority is being developed as a regulatory body to approve the competency standards and recognize high quality training institutions to add more value in the skills development landscape of Bangladesh. SEIP is also engaged in developing another important institution named Industry Skill Council (ISC) to work as a link between NSDA and industries to help the later remain innovative and competitive with appropriate skills development with the global market which too has been undergoing rapid changes in terms of changing needs of the consumers. The program has been quite farsighted and established three Executive Development Centers (EDCs) at three reputed Universities- Bangladesh University of Textiles, East-West University and BRAC University. Another similar center is being developed at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) at the Dhaka University to produce leaders in skills development sector in Bangladesh. The main purpose of developing these centers is to develop high level managers in textile, knitwear, garments, leather, and footwear sectors that are now imported from abroad causing huge outflow of foreign exchange from Bangladesh.
- Developing a real time online training management system (TMS) to document all important gender segregated information related to the training activities including enrolment, dropout, assessment, certification, job placement etc.
The SEIP so far has laid a solid ground for funding mechanism for skills development for both public and private sectors in about ten priority sectors. These are strategic sectors to fast-track growth in productivity to make the export related industries more competitive in the global market. This was certainly a strategic move by the government for building strong human capital resources for sustaining the growth momentum for avoiding the usual middle-income trap to reach its destination of the high-income status. The lessons learned from this experimentation should be further replicated to make the country ready for the transformation as desired by the fourth industrial revolution. It is high time to assess the gains made in applications of the fourth industrial revolution related technologies in the priority sectors and move ahead with further investment in areas like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, internet of things, block chain and distributed ledger technologies, biotechnologies and bioinformatics, big data management through machine learnings and see the potential for export of advance technological services. This would need refocusing our policy support for developing the capacities and prioritizing strategic policy moves for developing skills as may be required for alignment with the fourth industrial revolution to achieve the double-digit economic growth for becoming a developed country by 2041.
Simultaneously, we will have to look for the just transition and modernization for skill development of workforce in the new context of addressing the climate challenges. There is apparently no scope of avoiding automation which may have serious implication of job losses for the low-skilled workforce in our country. So, reskilling and upskilling of the existing workforce and reforming the education and training systems to supply job-ready newer version of high-skilled work forces may be the only options left for us if we want to remain globally competitive. We must, therefore, redesign our skills development policy for preparing the existing and emerging workforces for the labor market of the future. Most of the new jobs, as envisaged in the Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, will be available in the green industries (small and large) including sectors related to renewable energy like solar, wind, biogas, vermiculture and storage, agriculture using environment-friendly recirculating water technologies, shrimp cultivation, waste management, green construction, tanning, telecommunications, electric vehicles, and green garments etc.
There is a huge potential for greater job opportunities in green transformational activities through the installation and management renewable energy including insulation and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning of environment-friendly workplaces. The potential for green exports remains high if we can ensure green transformation of our supply chains through higher number of LEED certified factories, voluntary sustainable standards, greater disclosure of environment related information on the production process, better social and governance compliances and our prioritization of adaptation drive from our limited budgetary resources. Bangladesh has already made significant progress in addressing climate vulnerabilities by supporting green transformation of our major export sectors (e.g., RMGs) with strategic support from the central bank’s innovative sustainable financing and participation of the private and non-profit sectors in our green growth strategy.
It will now be looking for more long-term collaborative ventures with the governments and private sector for faster transformation of the green industries with higher job intensities. The skill development policy of Bangladesh must reorient with this new reality of climate changes. Ability to develop these new skills and innovation base must also be aligned with the aspirations of the private sector. Of course, government will have to continue to make strategic decisions besides investing heavily in R&D, along with building up the required knowledge capacity by reforming the education system and encouraging joint ventures through greater flow of FDIs to ensure technological transformation and assimilation. The private sector must also be incentivized to investment more in skill development and training of their workforce in addition to supporting the higher educational institutions to become innovation hubs with deeper linkage with the industry. This can also benefit from this job-responsive greater education-industry collaboration. Fortunately, Bangladesh is now moving in this direction and the Ministry of Education has been restructuring its policy to prepare the new generation to meet the new challenge originating from both technological and climate changes. Its greater focus on technical and vocational education is a step in the right direction. However, the challenges, particularly arising out of multiple divides in the education system of Bangladesh, can hardly be overemphasized. The human capital including skills developments cannot be the sole prerogative of the government. Multiple actors, including the private sector, not-for-profit actors, NGOs, civil society, and several development partners that are involved in this sector must also play their due roles. Of course, the role of the government will remain paramount in strategizing the skill development policy, coordinating, and facilitating all the actors involved to accelerate the growth of human capital to align with our vision for becoming a developed country by 2041.