Bangladesh is small, but with a population of over 162 million people, it is the eighth most densely populated country on the planet. This presents plenty of challenges – how do you provide sanitation, power, education and other basic needs to so many people? How do you improve infrastructure to facilitate travel for so many commuters? And how do you create decent work opportunities for one of the world’s largest populations of young people?
It is in the context of this last question that we are marking the UN’s World Youth Skills Day tomorrow.
A mismatch of skills
According to UN reports, young people (ranging from 15-24 years) are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. According to a recent International Labour Organization (ILO) publication, globally 73.4 million young people were estimated to be unemployed in 2015 (13.1 percent youth unemployment rate), and this figure is expected to increase in most regions by 2017. Those who are employed are often exposed to lower quality jobs and labour market inequalities. Moreover, women are more likely to be underemployed, under-paid, and to undertake part-time or temporary contracts.
Skills and jobs for youth feature prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills.
In Bangladesh, most of the young people do not have access to decent employment, which can lead to dangerous lifestyles, hazardous or underpaying jobs, drug addiction, fraud or early marriages in the case of girls. This is mostly because the existing education system is failing to address the learning needs of young people, a mismatch between the skills that workers in the economy can offer and the skills demanded by employers, as well as school dropouts due to poverty.
That is why industry-based skills training is a key determinant of success in the labour market. Several governments wings, private sector and development organisations are offering short yet quality hands-on skills training courses to turn this large number of human resources into a valuable workforce. There are also existing technical and vocational institutions that offer long-term diploma or graduate courses.
Investing in training
Sudokkho was launched in the beginning of 2015 with the aim of building a strong, inclusive private sector market for skills-based training in the construction and readymade garments (RMG) sectors. Already over 11,000 people have completed training courses, of which 59 percent are women. Of the trainees, more than 65 percent were below the age of 24.
Sudokkho has a market development approach and works with 35 private training partners and 35 factories under five industry-based partners. It provides technical assistance to these partners so that they have the capacity to provide high-standards of training within a short time, as well as certify the graduates who are eligible for employment. Also, the partners must ensure job placements of each graduates. Though guarantee of a job right after training seems very lucrative to the learners, the real challenge lies in motivating youths to invest in training with their money and time. Raising awareness on the benefits of skills training that covers theoretical, practical and soft skills classes is crucial here.
I had the pleasure of meeting one graduate from a Sudokkho-supported training course - a young woman called Happy from Kishoreganj. Aged just 20, Happy works 11 hours per day, six days a week at a factory in Ashulia in order to support her family. She sends home most of her earnings every month and is single-handedly enabling her elderly parents to pay their rent and keep her siblings in school.
The evidence suggests that trainees like Happy, who have completed training courses from private training centres, have earned more money and remained in jobs for longer than they would have without training. They also do not join as a helper, which is a common practice for new workers, rather sewing machine operators with higher starting salary.
Even so, the data on the number of young people without work remain troubling. According to the World Bank, youth unemployment in Bangladesh grew from 8.2 percent in 1991 to 9.1 percent in 2014, although it has fallen from a high in 2009 of 10.9 percent. This presents a challenge to the country that must be addressed at the highest level. For Bangladesh to achieve its stated aim of reaching middle-income status by 2021, the workforce has to become more inclusive in terms of including young unemployed generation irrespective of their gender and develop better skills.
That is the only way for Bangladeshis to escape poverty and the only way for more young people to follow in Happy’s footsteps and take control of their lives.
The author is Team Leader of Sudokkho, a skills and employment project that has been working in Bangladesh since 2014