Absorbing all unemployed youth into the job market is a daunting task that is not unique for Bangladesh.
As nations observe the World Youth Skills Day Monday (July 15), what Bangladesh needs to do is instil skills into young, working-age people, making them market-ready for overseas jobs.
The United Nations recognises rising youth unemployment as one of the most significant problems of developed and developing countries. Some 475 million new jobs need to be created over the next decade to absorb 73 million youth currently unemployed and 40 million new entrants a year to the labour market worldwide, according to the UN estimates.
And the rate of unemployment (defined as percentage of the labour force) is 4.2 per cent in the country, said Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in its 'Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2016-17'. The rate is 4.9 per cent in urban areas and 4.0 per cent in rural areas.
The highest unemployment rate was found among the youths aged between 15 years and 24 years - at 12.3 per cent. It is 5.7 per cent for the ones aged 25-34 years.
There are an estimated 2.68 million unemployed persons who are aged 15 or older, BBS report said. Of them 1.36 million are aged between 15 to 24 years old, which is 50.8 per cent of the working age population. As many as 1.32 million persons or 49.2 per cent are aged above 25 years, said the report.
Unemployment rate has been the highest among the literate persons (5.3 per cent) than that of illiterate persons (1.7 per cent), the report added.
According to it, the unemployment rate signals to some extent the underutilisation of the labour supply.
This reflects the inability of an economy to generate employment for people who want to work but are not doing so, even though they are available for employment and actively seeking work.
While the youth unemployment rate is a big challenge for the country, experts believe overseas employment of Bangladeshis can be a solution to the problem.
To create skilled manpower for overseas employment, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) is providing skills development training. BMET has 70 training centers countrywide so far, said Md Nurul Islam, director (training operations) of BMET.
In 2017, BMET trained 839,727 people under various categories, he added.
With a growing youth population of almost 60 per cent and tight job market, migration can be a solution to prevailing unemployment of the country, states BMET annual report.
In 2017, more than one million workers went for overseas jobs, a 33 per cent surge over the number of 2016, says the report.
In 2015, Bangladesh was ranked 9th among top remittance recipients, fetching nearly $15.4 billion, which is around 11 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2017, total remittance received by Bangladesh was $13.58 billion, states the report.
Professor Mohammad Mainul Islam, chairperson of Population Sciences department at Dhaka University told UNB, "The global scenario is changing. In the competitive global market, demand for skilled labour is growing while Bangladesh is exporting manpower mostly for low or semi-skilled jobs. If we could export highly skilled labour force, the country could have earned more remittances."
Mainul Islam said, countries like India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines have entered the global market with their manpower. Bangladesh also needs to build skilled manpower keeping the competition in mind.
Also, if skilled manpower could be developed, Bangladesh would not have to hire skilled people from other countries like India, he added.
Bangladesh has the opportunity of utilising its working age population as its major population is working age people while dependency rate is still low, added the professor.
"But Bangladesh will not enjoy the opportunity (demographic dividend) too long. We have around 20 to 22 years of time in our hand to utilise the working force", claimed the demographer.
"After 2040, the dependency rate (aged people) may start increasing. So we must find ways to use the working age population and create skilled labour force within the time we have", he added.
The professor stressed on vocational education to create skilled manpower as well as identify new markets globally to utilise the labour force.
He also emphasied the need for changing the existing market structure and education structure to create applied-knowledge oriented curriculum and job and draw more investment in the market to create more job opportunities.
Mainul suggested that a balanced combination of practical and theoretical education is needed, while more cooperation between the ministries working for this sector should be ensured with more developed youth policy to reduce the youth unemployment rate.
The UN also addressed education and training as the key determinants of success in the labour market.
According to the UN, existing systems are failing to address the learning needs of many young people, and surveys of learning outcomes and skills show that a large number of youth have low levels of achievement in basic literacy and numeracy.
To raise awareness on the importance of investing in youth skills development, the United Nations General Assembly decided to designate 15 July as World Youth Skills Day.