- Industry does not get skilled graduates they need
- 46% private employers find it difficult to fill job vacancies
- No assessments on what types of jobs available
- Vocational institutions can't provide expected skilled manpower
- Do not have sufficient numbers of vocational training centres
- Only 7% students under vocational education
Abdul Wadud Chowdhury, a textile industry entrepreneur in Tangail, produces fabrics from yarn in his factory, where 600 employees work.
The textiles graduates who joined his factory after completing their engineering degrees have 40% of the required industrial skills.
He said the duration of internships under a company during the study period is too short which was a reason behind poor technical skills.
Specialised institutions like universities and polytechnic colleges over the country provide both diploma and bachelor degrees in textile engineering.
While studying a four-year BSc (Hons) in textile engineering under the National Institute of Textile Engineering and Research (Niter) – affiliated with Dhaka University – a student has to complete an internship in the last two months of their final year.
However, Abdul Wadud thinks that a student should have at least six months of internship experience. Like him, hundreds of private industry owners of the country have been claiming that they do not get the skilled workforces that they want.
A recent study of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) also says that around 46% of private employers in the country find difficulties in filling job vacancies as most applicants do not possess the skills required.
Educationists and industrialists attribute this to a faulty education system with a traditional curriculum which cannot provide the skilled manpower needed by industries.
Even then, there is a gap between academia and industries to produce necessary skills among the graduates which creates a huge number of educated unemployed in the country.
However, the education ministry said that they have taken initiatives to update the curriculum at different levels, but they are yet to yield any results.
The CPD research finds that the employers consider three factors as most important while making a hiring decision – soft skills, hard skills and work experience.
The most important soft skills, according to employers, include communication, time management, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, critical thinking, professional networking skills and creativity.
Most important hard skills according to employers are computer skills, technical skills and subject-specific knowledge, English language skills, operational skills, business skills, numeracy and mathematical skills, general knowledge and awareness about current affairs.
The study finds that the three most important skills that employers expect to see from job seekers are communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills.
"Employers are observing the industrial skills that employers want cannot be achieved through the traditional curriculum. This is a weakness of our curriculum," Professor Mohammad Ali Zinnah of Institute of Education and Research (IER), Dhaka University, told TBS.
"That's why our children are suffering from unemployment on the one hand after receiving higher education, while on the other, management-level workers are being brought from neighbouring countries to fill the gap. As a result, a lot of money is going abroad," he added.
The country has around 2.10 crore students from secondary to higher education level, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS).
Among them, around 14 lakh (7%) students study at 7,259 vocational and technical institutes.
Experts said the number is not enough to produce available technical graduates as the demand of the labour market is changing gradually to adapt with modern technology.
Besides, existing students do not get quality education to fulfil the demand of various sectors.
"A tracer study for matching diploma in engineering curriculum for local and global employability" by IER of Dhaka University said in most technologies, the alignment among individual courses of diploma programmes, related occupations and generated skills were found hard to be established.
It mentioned that lack of practical knowledge, irrelevance of learned knowledge and practical field, lack of opportunity for hands-on activity, difference between course content and practical field, lack of equipment, inconsistency between curriculum and job market, lack of theoretical and practical knowledge are obstacles in achieving skills for graduates.
Every year around 2 million youths join the job market.
The government's 8th 5-year plan sets a target to create around 11.3 million jobs, but experts wonder if the country's youth are even ready for that.
AKM Fahim Mashroor, chief executive officer, Bdjobs.com, said that the main problem of the graduates nowadays was that they had become more interested in government jobs since the national pay scale 2015 was declared.
"So, most graduates are preparing them for the BCS exam, not for the private sector," he added.
Faulty education system even fail to create language proficiency
The latest index of the Switzerland-based international organisation Education First (EF) (released in December 2019) measured English proficiency by surveying over two million people in more than 100 countries that do not have English as their first language.
Based on the scores obtained, the countries are divided into five levels: Very High, High, Medium, Low, and Very Low.
Bangladesh placed 71 on this list with a score of 48.11, which is a low category..
The neighbouring country India is above Bangladesh and is ranked 34th in the list with a score of 55.49.
Nepal is also ahead of Bangladesh in the list at the 66th position with a score of 49.
Abul Kasem Khan, former president, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DCCI), said, "There are weaknesses in the education system. We can't speak English even after passing our Masters," adding that the need assessment was not being done to see what was actually being demanded.
Polytechnic institutes can't provide right person for industries
The country has 52 public polytechnic institutes. There are 900 permanent teachers and 1,30,000 students in those institutes. The teacher to student ratio is 1:144.
The All India Council for Technical Education, a regulatory body for technical education in India, says the teacher to student ratio has to be 1:15 from the 2020-21 academic year. This ratio is 1:23 in Pakistan and even lower in Singapore.
This leaves students with technical incompetencies.
Engineer Abu Noman Hawlader, managing director of BBS Cables Limited, told TBS that his company usually hires skilled manpower from India and other neighbouring countries as the Bangladeshi technical education institutes cannot produce qualified diploma engineers.
"The diploma engineers from government polytechnic institutes are of medium quality. We hire them and then make them fit for the job through practical training, but it is not really our job to do that," he said.
When asked about diploma engineers who are from private polytechnic institutes, Noman said the junior engineers do not have even 5% of the required knowledge.
Currently, the Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology (DUET) is the only dedicated public university for the diploma engineers.
Why industry-academia gaps are widening
The DCCI has been working for the last few years to minimise the skill gaps by collaborating with academia.
However, its president Rizwan Rahman told TBS that the feedback was disappointing as some universities want only money to do research but exclude active participation of entrepreneurs.
"We have signed MoUs with many institutions to make a way for the industry to guide the academia. But unfortunately, most of the initiatives are failing, because we do not get much support from the academies," he said.
He said that they have some good experience too as DCCI is currently working with BUET, DU, BUP, AIUB, ULAB, Daffodil International University (DIU).
For example, DCCI Business Institute operates a Certificate Course in collaboration with DIU on 'Financial Technology', 'Business Data Analysis & Financial Forecasting' intended for finance professionals.
Besides, it has Postgraduate Diploma courses on Customs, VAT and Income Tax Management; International Trade Management and 'Business Communication', jointly with some universities to develop skills among freshers, mid-career professionals and managers.