At least 6.6 million Bangladeshis, qualified for permanent jobs, cannot be provided with employment opportunities, says the latest labour force survey. It also finds that about 2.68 million people aged over 15 years are completely unemployed.
The figure is shocking but not surprising. Unemployment is one of the major problems our policymakers are facing over the past couple of years. Economists have pointed out that the country has entered a jobless growth in which situation jobs have not been created despite the consistently high economic growth over the years.
It is not hard to find some unemployed among any of our families and friends. In fact, the real situation is worse than what is depicted in the labour force survey.
Many young people are living miserable life because of this curse of unemployment. I personally know a retired headmaster whose only son is unemployed even after having two Master’s degrees. The family is facing all sorts of difficulties without any source of income. So are many families. There are even reports of youth committing suicide due to unemployment.
While on one hand many graduates are not getting jobs, on the other hand industrialists often complain that they are not getting competent hands.
This issue was raised in some recent discussions on economic problems. Many industrialists, including Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporter Association president Siddiqur Rahman, mentioned that there is serious scarcity of skilled manpower in Bangladesh. Their contention was backed up by statistics in Bangladesh’s garment sector and some other sectors, where many from our neighboring countries are employed while our youths do not get jobs.
There is serious discrepancy and skill gap in our education system and there is hardly any communication between the universities and industries.
Our policymakers know about the mismatch but are doing nothing about it.
However, there are some examples in certain countries which address this shortcoming with a unique technique. China has a good model of reforms in the education system. In 2014, it decided to transform at least 600 public universities into polytechnic institutions, according to a report of London-based online newspaper University World News. The Chinese education system is centered in technical and vocational institutions. And this makes the difference. Technical and vocational education has played a crucial role in China’s booming economy.
When graduates are skilled, they will get jobs either at home or abroad. Even if there are no jobs at home, graduates can migrate and get jobs in distant parts of the world. But if they do not have skills, jobs in their home countries will be filled up by foreigners as is the case of Bangladesh to some extent. A good number of Indian and Sri Lankan nationals are reportedly employed in Bangladesh’s readymade garment industry.
Many of our graduates lack skills even after completing their Master's programmes. Our education system fails to prepare our graduates for the jobs available in the country. There are plenty of opportunities in the technical and vocational sectors but there are no adequate graduates in this system of education. This is due to the stigma attached to the vocational education system.
There is a general perception that technical and vocational education is for dropouts, not for students of merit. Many parents do not want to send their children to vocational institutes as vocational graduates have a low social status in our country.
I met many vocational graduates who are employed with good salaries and they told me that they had to struggle a lot with their families to opt for this form of education. One of them, a teacher at a polytechnic institute, said most of his relatives were against him when he got admitted to a polytechnic institute.
Most polytechnic graduates get jobs within one or two years of their graduation, confirm surveys. This is certainly not the case in general education. Many of the polytechnic graduates are also entrepreneurs who are not only employed but are also creating new jobs.
We have already created so many unemployed graduates. We must take measures to address this. Focussing on vocational and polytechnic education system is the only solution to our unemployment problem.
And to make vocational education popular, we must change our mindset towards this education system. Vocational education is not only for dropouts but also for meritorious students.
* Mushfique Wadud is a journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com