More initiatives needed for creating a skilled workforce

Hiren Pandit: Bangladesh is constantly connecting with the global economy. Our four means of communication are export, import, investment and temporary immigration. Bangladesh’s imports are much higher than its exports. Therefore increasing foreign investment in the country and manpower export are the main ways to strengthen the economy. Foreign investment will increase in the country only when the country has sufficient resources, such as mines or land, capital or manpower. Unskilled manpower does not encourage foreign investment. With unskilled manpower, only the labour-intensive sectors will see investment. Bangladesh is in urgent need of diversifying its export basket. In countries where the skills of the workers are higher, foreign investment increases. The same is true of manpower exports. The demand for skilled workers is constantly increasing. Skilled workers earn about 10 times more than unskilled workers.

The technological incentive of the 4IR is everywhere. This revolution is making a huge difference in the world of thought, in the production of goods and the provision of services. Human lifestyles and the nature of the earth are changing rapidly. The wall of distinction between the biological, terrestrial and digital worlds is coming unstuck.

While other countries are making rapid progress, we lag far behind others in terms of quality of technical education. According to the Technical Education Board, there are 6,065 technical education institutions in our country. At present, about 12 lakh students are getting technical education.

Only 14 per cent of our students are receiving technical education. At present, the rate of technical education is 73 per cent in Germany, 68 per cent in Japan, 75 per cent in Singapore, 60 per cent in Australia, 55 per cent in China, 50 per cent in South Korea and 48 per cent in Malaysia. However, our present government has set a long-term target for the development of technical education which is to reach 20 per cent in 2020, 30 per cent in 2030 and 50 per cent by 2050. The government is taking up various plans and programmes to achieve this target.

Especially, when the government is committed to inclusive development with all, Leaving No One Behind (LNOB) in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Reducing inequality, safe operation, responsible consumption and production are key challenges in implementing and achieving the SDGs. If we do not take action now, we will fall behind. That is why skill training and technical education are so essential for us. Because we want to keep pace with the world as far as technology is concerned.

We have confidence in the young generation of the country. We know that the youths of the country are very talented. They can learn everything within a short span of time. The government needs to create that opportunity for the youths. Considering the importance of the issue, the government is setting up 39 high-tech or software technology parks across the country. When these are completed, about 3 lakh people will be employed. Among them the youth of the country will get the most opportunities. The investment will come from home and abroad and skilled manpower will be created. The government has been taking various initiatives to create a skilled workforce including setting up 31 specialized labs in different universities to counter the competition likely to be posed by the changing times.

We need to make the people of the country skilled in technical and technological education and training. In that way they can keep pace with the changing world. Skilled manpower will be able to contribute to the development of our country. A large number of Bangladeshi workers are working in different countries of the world. We need to send skilled manpower to foreign labour markets. In the last 12 years, 500 polytechnic institutes have been established under public and private initiatives.

Education is needed to create skilled human resources. Higher educational institutions can play a big role in this. That is why it has been said that higher education has to be restructured for the graduates to survive in this era global competition. The Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission need to reorganise the education system to create human resources suitable for these competitive days. In collaboration with the Department of Information and Communication Technology, digital content has been created for primary, secondary, madrasa and technical level students which are being broadcast across the country. The government is working to improve and modernise the citizens’ quality of life through Digital Bangladesh and facilitate access to civic services, education, health, management, working methods, industry, trade and production, economy, social and cultural life in a digital manner.

As technology has become readily available to every citizen of the country, arrangements are being made to reach out to the marginalised. Technology has become a trusted medium in all civic services and livelihoods. With the help of information technology, young people are building small and big IT firms, e-commerce sites, app-based services and other organizations. Besides, a few big achievements including the first satellite of Bangladesh in space have taken Bangladesh to a unique height.

Bangladesh is yet to have sufficient human resources with innovative knowledge, high efficiency, deep thinking, and problem-solving skills. Therefore, the government has to hire experienced and skilled consultants from neighbouring and other countries in various development projects and foreign investment. According to economists, more than five billion USD is going out of the country for this reason.

The fact that higher education in Bangladesh is not effective is evident from this recent statistic. Bangladesh’s growing progress and success in socio-economic development are recognised worldwide. The economy of agrarian Bangladesh is slowly changing to an industrial and service economy. On the other hand, the fastest change is happening in the technology sector.

As a result, the type of industry and service is also changing. Therefore, thousands of higher education institutions will be of no use if they cannot adapt to this change by creating skilled human resources and adopting new strategies and prepare themselves for the highly competitive markets. Millions of students receiving higher education will continue to be a burden to the state.

According to a study carried out by Oxford University, in the next two decades, 47 ​​per cent of work could be done through automated artificial intelligence devices. Now is the best time to prepare our young generation for the new high-skilled job market that will be created, even if the 4IR eliminates labour-intensive and relatively low-skilled jobs. If it is possible to prepare skilled manpower, Bangladesh is much more suitable than many other countries to enjoy the benefits of the 4IR by utilizing the demographic dividend.

Japan may be the best example for us in this case. Japan, the world’s second-largest economy from a fragile economy after World War II, has shown the world that economic and overall living standards can only be achieved through the use of human resources. Japan’s natural resources are negligible and arable land is only 15 per cent.

Japan has overcome all natural adversities by transforming the overwhelming majority of its population into skilled manpower. This example from Japan is most useful for us. We can become a country with a developed economy if we can transform the vast young population of Bangladesh into quality human resources.

Our curriculum does not have much coordination on the kinds of knowledge and skills that are required in the contemporary industrial arena. The education system also needs to be streamlined to deal with the changing developments in high technologies. Bangladesh is still lagging in these technologies. Using these technologies, the scope of working in various fields including traffic management, product supply, medicine, industry, banking, agriculture, education is still wide open. The inefficiency of our workers in the workplace is also the reason for this huge gap in their income. For obvious reasons, we should put more emphasis on technical skills. It is also important to change our education system over time. Industrial institutions and academies should come forward in the field of hands-on education and research through collaboration.

The writer is a columnist and researcher

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