Ravages of the pandemic are slowly coming to the fore.
Businesses have been affected badly. Trade losses, credit loss, stockpile and operating expenditure in "lockdown" have been forcing owners to take drastic measures. One such unpleasant action is the retrenchment of employees.
Media reports revealed there were job cuts in the garments factories after Eid holidays. Further cuts may be unavoidable for factories having to operate in half capacity due to cancellation of orders from overseas buyers.
This key sector in the economy of Bangladesh would have to deal with cancellation of orders from March to May reportedly worth $5 billion. However, industry leaders have assured that workers would be taken back if the order situation improves.
Whilst job losses from this major sector of employment are estimated at large numbers, add to this the workers returning from the Gulf, Europe or ASEAN hotspots.
It is unfortunate indeed that people who contributed "cash" to families and the nation would have no income to earn. We also have to take into account the large population currently disconnected from the service sector, including those engaged as domestic help, assistants etc.
What can we do for them?
Covid-19 has thrown at us tough challenges, yet there are opportunities. We have in the meantime adjusted to a new lifestyle. We make online orders for grocery, food, day-to-day essentials, even health services. Call centres are abuzz with queries; activities on the web have increased exponentially creating demand for IT expertise.
The most important sector where the need for a substantial workforce has arisen is the health and its subsectors. We need doctors, nurses, paramedics, caregivers and hospital management staff. It takes time to groom a doctor but nurses, laboratory technicians, hospital assistants can be trained in a matter of weeks or months.
Agriculture, pisciculture, farming; storage, processing, marketing and distribution of agricultural produce is another very important area where we need greater attention and investment.
The scenarios speak of two dynamics: new opportunities in service, agro sector and availability of skilled human capital. All that is needed now is entrepreneurial initiatives. Our young generations have demonstrated unparalleled success in service, supply chain, technology in the past.
Our talented industrialists achieved astonishing successes and turned a country of no cotton, no major industry experience with inadequate power supply into the second-largest readymade garments exporter to the world.
Financial institutions and policymakers complemented efforts with innovative solutions. A repeat of the spirited entrepreneurial efforts is desirable at this critical juncture of the nation.
Capital, the other factor of production, may come from an orchestrated stimulus programme. The government has announced allocations to the health, agriculture, SME and Industries for the revival of their operation. The fund may be also extended to initiatives catered to creating new jobs.
The enterprises that are under pressure to cut jobs may venture into new opportunities by retaining their workforce. Such initiatives may range from healthcare, agriculture etc to volunteering in aid programmes.
The government needs to facilitate our successful entrepreneurs to find new opportunities and retain the skilled resources in productive output, instead of retrenchment.
Authorities may introduce a special programme like Entrepreneurial Equity Fund (EEF) in this regard. The effective implementation of such initiatives may be assured by a coordination committee set up with full-time representation from lenders, trade bodies and sector experts.
Lay-off and job cuts may lessen the burden of a company but pass it on as a national responsibility. The greater responsibility is to work out a solution.
A coordinated effort is necessary to rise to the occasion and support our entrepreneurs in innovative investments. We also need to trust our young generation with investment. Let us see them shining in start-ups in all sectors of the new opportunities.
K A M Majedur Rahman, is a banker and former managing director of the Dhaka Stock Exchange Limited