A significant rise in job postings bears witness to a near-complete recovery of the job market in Bangladesh. And, the corporate world is leading the way in taking employment back to the pre-pandemic level.
The number of job adverts for hiring in heavy industry, engineering and construction, hospital and diagnostic centre, agro-based industry and the trading sector has also marked a rise this February similar to the numbers the same time a year ago, according to bdjobs.com, the largest platform for publishing job notifications in Bangladesh.
Manpower recruitment in several sectors climbed back to the pre-pandemic level last December. Recruitment in banks and non-bank financial institutions, pharmaceuticals, education and information technology sectors returned to normal levels in February this year.
However, the garment and textile sectors, government, semi-government and autonomous organisations are still hiring less than what they did in February 2020.
According to bdjobs.com, in February last year, various companies posted 4,970 job openings on its platform. Job notices had dropped to only 628 in April last year after the country had gone under the pandemic-led shutdown.
Since last September, the number of job postings has been picking up, taking it to 5,043 as of February this year, it adds.
Fahim Mashroor, chief executive officer of bdjobs.com, told The Business Standard that hiring in the corporate sector recovered to the pre-pandemic level in November-December. But this year, the private sector is not witnessing its usual 10-15% annual growth in manpower recruitment.
"There is a growing demand for employees in restaurants, hospitality, logistics sectors. Companies are struggling to cope with deliveries because of fewer delivery men. Demand for delivery men has increased to a great extent following the expansion of e-commerce business in the pandemic," he added.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) claimed that employment had reached the pre-pandemic level in September last year.
The government agency's surveyed data says 17% of business shops had remained open in the country when Covid-19 made inroads in March last year. The number returned to normal in September after a 10% fall in July. That is, small businesses that had been closed during the shutdown reopened in September.
'Small factories back in business'
The labour and employment ministry has no data on the number of unemployed workers in the industrial sector during the pandemic or how many workers got jobs since the reopening of the economy.
However, ministry officials think that employment has returned to its previous state because of no lay-off in big factories and the reopening of all sectors.
Md Rezaul Haque, additional secretary of the labour and employment ministry (Labour Wing), said, "No company of export-oriented sectors, including readymade garment factories, has laid off workers as they could pay salaries and allowances to their workers from the money they borrowed from the government under the stimulus package. There might be some job cuts in some factories. However, some small factories in other sectors, which were closed due to the pandemic, are now back in business."
"It is not possible to go into high gear without a full workforce. So we think the recruitment of workers has reached the pre-pandemic stage," he added.
The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments says about 32,000 workers had lost their jobs under the pandemic impact. However, 16,500 unemployed workers were included in the European Union's list of cash assistance recipients. Most of them were from the apparel sector.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) say the second wave of the virus affected Europe as the Bangladeshi manufacturers resumed production.
With the Western orders having collapsed owing to a lockdown in Europe, woven factories stopped worker recruitments, they said, adding the factories are less likely to open their doors for new workers until June-July.
In the meantime, knitwear manufacturers are hiring riding on their creeping up export orders.
Anwar-Ul Alam Chowdhury, chairman of Givensee Group, told TBS that though the knitwear factories hire some employees, most woven units stay put as they do not have foreign orders. The situation may improve if Europe lifts lockdown in June-July.
BGMEA President Rubana Huq told TBS that they hope the Western economy would rebound soon and that Bangladesh would get export orders up to the capacity, which eventually led to recruitment resumption.
Tour operators wait for cross-border tourists
Though domestic tourism resumed, inbound and outbound tourism is yet to reopen.
Therefore, large tour operators are yet to resume recruitments, said Tours Operators Association of Bangladesh President Mohammad Rafiuzzaman.
He said the mainstream tour operators mostly rely on inbound and outbound tours since the country's domestic tourism is tiny. "If inbound and outbound tourism does not resume, recruitment in our sector will not improve," he added.
Many kindergartens may have closed for good
Kindergartens had been the worst victim of the pandemic-led educational institution closure since March last year. Many schools have already gone bankrupt, and the teachers switched to other professions. Though the government plans school and college reopening on 30 March, many kindergartens will never open again.
Bangladesh Kindergarten Association President Mizanur Rahman said it would take years to reach the pre-pandemic level of recruitments.
"The recruitments depend on student enrollments. Only 40% of students got admitted to the school in December-January compared to the previous year. I hope we will get more students after the reopening. Otherwise, schools will have to run with fewer teachers instead of recruiting new ones," he added.
'Employment growth slow'
Dhaka University Prof Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, who took part in research on the labour market by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) published on 10 March, told TBS, "Our economy is still not running with full capacity. Several sectors related to educational institutions are closed while some sectors are slowly turning around."
She said significant investments are not coming as confidence among traders has not returned yet. As a result, employment is not growing at the expected rate.
Although the businesses are not very profitable, the employment is somewhat close to the pre-pandemic level, she also said.
Dr Sayema believes recovering income losses and retrieving jobs at readymade garments and other export industries – the major employment source – will take a few more months.
Production and marketing of virus safety items have created new jobs. The catering business is also expanding. If these sectors get government stimulus, they can generate more jobs. Besides, pharmaceuticals, leather and ICT sectors already have a significant employment potential, she noted.
Recruitment in government jobs gain momentum
Various government ministries and divisions, including the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC), have started holding postponed recruitment tests as well as issuing new recruitment notices.
Last month, the Prime Minister's Office urged ministries to fill vacant posts through speedy recruitment. Public and private banks have also resumed the held-up recruitment process.
According to the Cabinet Division, the number of government vacancies rose to 3,43,603 in June 2020 from 3,09,959 in the same time a year ago with all kinds of recruitments having come to a standstill from April that year. There are eight ministries and divisions with more than 10,000 vacancies.
After the present government took office in 2019, at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on 27 February that year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed creating 1.28 crore jobs in five years.
The PM made directives to increase trade and investment, expedite the establishment of 100 economic zones and ensure employment for at least one person in every family during the period.
At the same time, she also said the vacancies in government departments need to be filled through speedy recruitment.
The then principal secretary Nojibur Rahman wrote letters to various ministries on 4 March 2019 in this regard. However, the government recruitment process had come to a halt due to the pandemic.
Salman F Rahman, private industry and investment adviser to the prime minister, told TBS that the country's job growth did not get hit too much due to the pandemic. There was a minor setback, but the job sector already rode it out.
The government is extensively working on attracting domestic and foreign investments. In Particular, numerous development works are going on in the Bangabandhu Industrial City in Mirsarai, Japan Economic Zone in Araihazar and Matarbari. These economic zones are getting both local and foreign investments even amid the pandemic, he added.
"We talk about employment generation all the time. But I do not think the country has a high unemployment rate."
For example, farmers do not get enough agro-workers during the paddy harvesting season. There is unemployment among graduates as they all want white-collar jobs. But most of them do not chart out what they would do after graduation, the PM's adviser pointed out.
An official of the Ministry of Public Administration said in February this year, the Prime Minister's Office again sent a letter to the ministries to fill the vacancies.
State-owned banks one major source of white-collar jobs
State-owned banks are one of the main sources of white-collar jobs. There are about 54,000 vacancies in these banks and government financial institutions. The Bankers' Selection Committee recruits ninth- and tenth-grade officials for the state-owned banks. The committee completed application collection and other procedures for appointing around 5,500 bank officials during the pandemic but it did not hold the recruitment tests.
Arif Hossain Khan, member secretary of the Bankers' Selection Committee and general manager of the Bangladesh Bank, told TBS, "We are now holding tests for the posts for which the number of applications is up to 10,000. But several lakh applications have been submitted for the posts of officer, officer (cash) and senior officer. Although the rate of Covid-19 infection has decreased significantly, we are not ready to hold exams for such a large number of candidates."
"We will start holding recruitment tests after the 41st BCS preliminary examination to be held on 19 March. Several lakh candidates will take part in the test," he added.