At a recent seminar organised by the National Skills Development Authority (NSDA) titled 'Skills Development for Inclusive Growth in Bangladesh,' it was highlighted that at a time when our economy is gradually shifting from agriculture to manufacturing and service sector, around 36 percent of employers are facing a shortage of skilled workers.
From the view point of employers, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, one of the main reasons for this shortage is due to lack of skills which were supposed to be acquired throughout the academic stages of a candidate. The important thing to remember here is that the number of employers who have stated that they are unable to find skilled labour stands at 36 percent. So they are in the minority.
Also, it is important to note that this is the first seminar conducted by the NSDA and the data that they have presented has mainly come from the private sector. So, further investigation, in my opinion, is urgently required to obtain a more accurate and comprehensive picture in this regard. More research will help us understand which skills we need to work on developing for which industries.
While educational institutions are primarily responsible for ensuring that their respective students are equipped with the skills required for employment, students should motivate themselves to focus on acquiring and developing these skills on their own. It can be suggested that the way students are taught and the curriculum in schools, colleges, and especially universities are changed based on feedback from former students who are now working in various fields. Sadly, we have yet to embrace strategies that incorporate market-oriented thinking when it comes to education.
I think the mid-level education (undergraduate education) section deserves much more attention here because most of our workforce consists of people who have not pursued education any further than this stage. Think about to what extent do those who complete further education fill the total number of positions available in a given organisation? I would say the number will not be more than 10 percent. But those with mid-level education fill up more than 50 percent.
When someone at this level applies for a job, employers generally expect them to have certain skills, depending on the field from which they came and the field in which they are seeking a job. They expect the candidate, who has spent so many years of his life gaining education, to acquire job related skills from his/her academic learning sessions. Unfortunately, many candidates often do not. This is where the wide gap exists, and it is here that we must work to bridge the gap.
One of the main reasons behind the formation of NSDA was to help minimise such a gap. This is a commendable step. I am very pleased to see that the relevant authorities have finally recognised that to achieve the goals set out in Vision 2021, Vision 2041, and so on, we must first work on developing target-oriented skills. Having said that, the NSDA must strive not only to develop but also ensure that its policies are properly implemented at all levels.
One suggestion I have for them is to implement internship programmes at universities after each semester or every two semesters. If this can be done, students will be able to better understand what skills they will need in the long run while also acquiring many of them in due time. This will prepare them for a smooth transition to the next stage of their lives—the professional world. The ultimate benefit will be reflected in the national employment scenarios.
Our workforce is fully capable of adapting to change and coping with unfavourable circumstances. I am noticing a shift in the attitudes of our students and workforce in general, particularly among the young, in that they are becoming more interested in learning what skills they will need to succeed in a competitive job market.
However, this is not enough in light of the goals set under the visions I mentioned. The change should occur at a much faster rate. We must keep in mind that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is knocking on our door, and we will need to instil a complex set of skills in our workforce to remain competitive globally. Otherwise, the number of employers who are unable to find skilled labour will continue to rise in the coming years.
Following our exit from the LDC category in 2026, we will no longer have certain preferences and privileges in the export markets, particularly in the European and Canadian markets. We should step away from our conventional RMG-oriented thinking. It is time to diversify, and this should be reflected in how we train our current and potential workforce to acquire the skills needed to survive in the future. We must prepare them in such a way and with such skills that they will be able to deal with these drastic changes with ease.
My advice to the next generation is to begin thinking about which field they want to work in when they are in the second year of their undergraduate degree and to begin preparing themselves accordingly. This begs the question of how one can prepare himself/herself. One approach is for him/her to devote more time to learning, in greater depth, the courses that are most important for respective fields.
Secondly, they must engage themselves in various projects related to their fields of interest in different capacities with the help of their teachers. This will help them understand what their area of interest looks like in real life and how it operates in practice. Consequently, when they enter the professional world, they will not feel completely out of place and discouraged.
Last but not the least, as long as our education system is not reformed to accommodate skills-based learning, students can enrol in short training courses offered by various training institutions to learn the skills relevant to their area of interest.
The author is a Professor at the Department of Industrial and Production Engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.