In the 45 years since overseas employment from Bangladesh officially started in 1976 with sending merely 6,078 workers, the country has now emerged as the sixth largest source country of international migrants with around 1.2 crore Bangladeshis currently working abroad.
But, over these years, the country has become widely known as a supplier of unskilled workers because of its failure to groom a sufficient number of manpower for overseas jobs.
On average, around 5 lakh people were trained in various skills courses at technical training centres, run by the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) in the past six years, and yet some 47% of Bangladeshi migrant workers are considered less skilled, widely known as unskilled, according to official data. And, as these unskilled expats earn lower wages and remit less, the country's per worker remittance inflow remains one of the lowest in the world.
The average monthly remittance sent by a Bangladeshi expat is $203.33 (Tk17,236), while it is $564.1 for a Filipino worker, which is more than double compared to a Bangladeshi, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Moreover, the monthly average income of a Pakistani expat is $275.74 and $395.71 for an Indian and $532.71 Chinese citizen.
Stakeholders say inadequate information dissemination on technical training centres to the grass-roots level, a rather large demand for unskilled workers in the Middle East, and employment of a good number of trained workers in local industries are the major reasons behind the high rate of unskilled Bangladeshi migrants.
Pointing out that a lack of skills is the major reason behind the low wages of Bangladeshi nationals working abroad, they observe that if the country can send more skilled workers abroad, it will easily surpass some of its competitor countries in terms of inflows of foreign remittance.
Bangladesh was ranked sixth in the list of the top 20 countries of origin for international migrants, and was the eighth largest remittance receiving country in 2021, according to the World Migration Report 2022.
"We have to gradually transform into a supplier of skilled migrant workers, which will increase remittance earnings and decrease exploitation," said Tasneem Siddiqui, founding chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU).
"We are among the top remittance receiving countries only because we have around 1.2 crore people working abroad. If we can get these people trained, we will surely supersede our competitors in remittance income," she added.
She further observed that Bangladesh has to offer a choice of technical training to all students till the SSC level, and make this education compulsory.
According to the BMET, 60 lakh less skilled workers went abroad between 1976 and 2019, which is around 47% of the total number of expatriate workers abroad.
Between 2015 and 2020, 30.84 lakh people received training at various technical training centres, run by the BMET. During this period, 39.74 lakh Bangladeshi workers went abroad – meaning they included a big number of unskilled people.
What is more, not all of the trainees who get certificates from the training centres go abroad, say the authorities concerned, adding it is mainly graduates from electrical, air conditioner and welding courses who go abroad, especially to the Middle East.
"We have 32 short courses, ranging from one month to six months. Around 3,000-4,000 trainees get certificates from our training centres each year. Among them, 60-70% are employed at home and abroad," said Md Lutfar Rahman, principal of Bangladesh-Korea Technical Training Centre.
"Courses that are most in demand include those on driving, plumbing and pipefitting, general electrical work, refrigeration and air conditioning, graphics design, etc. However, people living in rural areas are not well-informed about the training centres. That is why a large number of them go abroad without any training," he added.
Speaking on the challenges, he said, "Technologies are changing fast but our machines and trainers are not well-equipped to deal with this. Besides, there should be a direct connection between employers and training centres to supply workers according to their demand."
Meanwhile, policymakers have said they want to increase the country's skilled workforce and adapt the courses and curricula to the changing information technology.
Work is going on to increase the number of technical training centres across the country as well, they add.
"Besides the setting up of training centres at the district-level, construction work on building 40 training centres in 40 upazilas and one marine technology institute in Chottogram is now at the final stage. In addition to this, a development project proposal has been formulated on establishing 100 training centres in 100 upazilas," Dr Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said on Friday at a press conference organised on the occasion of International Day of Migrants.
A state-of-the-art technical teachers training institute is being set up to improve the quality of various trades, add new courses and provide up-to-date training to trainers as per demand of the labour market, he added.
Target to send health professionals
Experts say demand for health professionals will increase around the world in the post-Covid-19 era.
Speaking on the subject, Expatriates' Welfare Minister Imran Ahmed said on Friday the government has taken initiatives to create a body of health professionals, including nurses, in coordination with the Directorate General of Nursing and Midwifery.
All the nurses in the country are working in the country, the minister mentioned, adding that a committee has been formed comprising officials of the BMET and DG Nursing to send abroad nurses from among those who will graduate from the 350 nursing institutes in the country in 2022.