Bangladesh lags behind in developing skilled manpower to cope with the fourth industrial revolution, and Covid-19 might be a wake-up call for the country to prepare itself, speakers observed at a webinar on Saturday.
They think if the country can seize the opportunity, it will also achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) organised the webinar on "Post-Covid-19 Bangladesh Industry Readiness: Investment and Skills."
Speaking as the chief guest, Deputy Education Minister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury said aiming to re-skill and up-skill the returnee migrant workers, the government had decided to withdraw the age limit for technical education.
"The country's universities should focus on creating industry's demand-based skilled graduates. If the academic knowledge is not industry-driven, its value is zero in this world – the reality is that this is happening in Bangladesh," he said.
About 2.8 million students are being enrolled in colleges under the National University, he said adding, "We have no options without reskilling them."
It is also necessary to change the mindset of those graduates, the deputy minister added.
"We need to modernise our education curriculum as per the requirements of industry," he continued.
Speaking as a special guest Md Sirazul Islam, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida), said, "Covid-19 brings us an opportunity with a warning for developing skills which is needed."
He said everyone alleges that foreigners hold all managerial positions and they receive good payment.
Bida gives work permits to foreign workers every year upon the local industries' requirements, he said adding, "Our industry is expanding at a faster pace, but in line with that, the development of soft managerial skill is not quite apparent."
"To overcome this skills gap, we need to put emphasis on communication, technical and language skills of our workers."
Sirazul said the country has shortages of managerial skills in graduates due to a big gap between industry needs and education.
He also focused on foreign direct investments in the country.
"Bida is trying to attract the industries shifting from China to Bangladesh. It is very important to facilitate them, maintaining good communication and improving ease of doing business," said the Bida executive chairman.
He said private investment wants faster, transparent, cheaper, and speedy services from the government. In order to ensure this, Bida started its one stop service centre.
DCCI President Shams Mahmud in his welcome address said, "Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have experienced a slower growth of exports, including in the garments sector. Due to a lack of working capital and squeezed international export market, we have seen job losses both in SMEs and the informal sector."
He said the relocation of factories from China has opened up a greater opportunity for Bangladesh.
Moreover, Bangladesh has the competitive advantage with a demographic dividend of 63.5 million workforce, he added.
The DCCI president said, "Twenty percent of our total workforce is engaged in the manufacturing industry despite our need for a skilled workforce. However, in the post-Covid-19 period, sustaining existing employment and creating more employment will be a big challenge."
Shams Mahmud recommended modernising the education curriculum, up-skilling and reskilling workers and creating an inclusive digital infrastructure.
He said DCCI has plans to launch an initiative within the next three months to make a bridge between industry and universities named Research and Innovation.
Shaquib Quoreshi, entrepreneur of the Business Intelligence Limited, in his keynote presentation, highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic closure of businesses in the Middle East, Western Europe and the Asean region will result in a sudden increase of returning migrant workers.
"Our labour market information system is still underdeveloped," he said. Creating sufficient employment opportunities will be a big challenge for us."
"Moreover, we need to think that to attract relocated industries to Bangladesh, we have to compete with other countries as well. Now is the time to focus on the technical and vocational education system," he added.
Panel discussant Engr Akber Hakim, president of the Bangladesh-Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said, "Our graduates should be skilled-up and have the ability to think critically – their current skills may be replaced by artificial intelligence within a few years."
Md Shahidul Alam, additional secretary to the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry, said about 2.2 million people are added to the mainstream workforce every year. Of them, about 0.8 million people go abroad for work.
"However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a few of our expatriate workers may lose their jobs and come back to Bangladesh – though it will not be alarming for us," he added.
"For returning migrants, the government has allocated a revolving fund of Tk700 core to facilitate their rehabilitation."
He said operating demand-driven training for skills development will play a key role in rehabilitating jobless workers, and emphasised the importance of industry-academia collaboration for creating demand-driven skilled manpower.
Panel discussant Md Abdur Razzaque, Member (Joint Secretary), National Skill Development Authority (NSDA), said, "We will have many threats in the post-Covid-19 situation."
Though a few sectors are declining now in terms of doing business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ICT is one of the booming sectors in this situation with growth of about 50 percent, he added.
It is a fact that Bangladesh has limitations in quality research for industry readiness, he said adding that NSDA is working on skill mapping to identify skills deficits.
Among others, Asif Ibrahim, chairman of the Chattogram Stock Exchange, Mohammad Bashiruddin, vice president of DCCI, Khairul Majid Mahmud, former director of DCCI, and Humayun Rashid, former senior vice-president of DCCI, spoke on the occasion.