When more than 600 people apply for one entry level job in a private bank – nearly three times as high as the average number of candidates in civil service recruitment tests, it only shows how scarce a job has become for university graduates.
It is a Herculean task for recruiters too to sort out a few skills they need from an avalanche of applications with great academic scores that often prove not well worthy for the job market.
Brac Bank, in a recent recruitment test, found candidates with lower CGPA scores from district-level colleges in the top-20 list, while higher scorers from reputed universities including Buet were among those screened out in the preliminary assessment.
The private commercial bank chose to avoid conventional assessment tests and innovated a new way to get the right people for the right job from around 43,000 applicants for 70 Probationary Officer posts.
In the BCS preliminary test in October last year, there were about 4.43 lakh candidates for over 1,800 posts of entry-level government officers – 244 graduates trying for one post.
Notwithstanding that there is an abundant supply of jobseekers, private sector employers find it difficult to get the right fit, which drives them to continuously change assessment methods.
For instance, Brac Bank has introduced the "Behavioral Competency Framework" for interview assessments moving away from the conventional pre-employment testing methods.
In this method, the proficiency level of candidates was assessed through psychometric tests instead of knowledge-based tests.
And this is the first time a bank in the country has conducted such tests through which it has assessed the candidates' performance on operation, leadership, management, relationship and innovation.
The application requirement for the post was simply a four-year graduation degree. The bank did not set any criteria concerning the candidates' age, result or the reputation of the university with a view to screen for real talents from across the country.
In the first step, the authorities held an online exam for which 35,000 applicants appeared. From them, 2,000 were sorted out for the next stage of assessment.
None of the top 20 among the 2,000 short-listed candidates had a grade point average of above 3 on the scale of 5 in their graduation level, reflecting that academic result is not the primary indicator of one's skill and talent.
Moreover, 2% of the short-listed candidates were from the National University. Many candidates who graduated from the prestigious business school IBA (Institution of Business Administration) of Dhaka University could not qualify for the short lists while a student from a lesser known college in Noakhali district scored among the top candidates, according to Brac Bank.
The bank selected 100 candidates for the final stage of the assessment through behavioural and work value performance tests. The average age of the selected candidates is 25.5 years – meaning fresh graduates who have no job experience showed good skills.
Under the new psychometric test process, key behavioural competencies are customer centricity, ownership and delivery of results, integrity, collaboration and developing others.
"We've introduced the behavioural competency framework aiming to recruit quality people," said Akhteruddin Mahmood, head of human resource department at Brac Bank.
He said 95% of the candidates selected for the final phase of pre-employment testing were fresh graduates and that they would be trained for one year and placed in a department they fit well.
"We invited applications from people with a four-year graduate degree. We did not set any age limit.
"We didn't say you have to have a CGPA of 3.5 or you have to be a graduate from the best university. Therefore, the number of applicants was very high," mentioned Akhteruddin Mahmood.
"Our questionnaire included five questions on retail banking and ten questions on HR [human resources] and most of the questions were related to behaviours. This is called a psychometric test. This method of assessment is now followed across the world.
"This means we put more emphasis on how the candidates would deal with customers than their academic results."
The bank has increased the gross salary for this entry-level post from Tk45,000 to Tk70,000 – to compete with multinational companies, said Mahmood. The increased salary compensates the current high cost of living.
Multinational companies pick fresh graduates at high salaries ranging above Tk90,000, he added.
A recent study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has found that around 46% of the private employers in the country find it difficult to fill vacancies as most applicants do not possess the required skills.
The study entitled "Skills Gap and Youth Employment in Bangladesh: An Exploratory Analysis" finds that employers consider three most important factors while making a hiring decision – soft skills (83% employers), hard skills (65%) and work experience (51%).
The most important soft skills, according to employers, include communication, time management, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, critical thinking, professional networking skills and creativity.
Most important hard skills, according to employers, are computer skills, technical skills and subject-specific knowledge, English language skills, operational skills, business skills, numeracy and mathematical skills, general knowledge and awareness about current affairs.
The CPD had developed a skills assessment test to evaluate at least 500 students and recent graduates from 41 universities which showed that the highest average score was obtained for "creativity" whereas the lowest average scores were obtained in "communication, English language skill, numeracy and mathematics."
"There is a gap between the market demands and skills of graduates. The passing graduates are not able to utilise their skills," said Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the CPD.
"The demand of the labour market is changing gradually to adapt with modern technology. However, we do not have sufficient numbers of vocational training centers," she added.