A recent study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) released last Tuesday in Dhaka made a suggestion that the macroeconomic scenario should not only be evaluated based on the never-before-seen rate of growth but also on the capacity for creation of new jobs. Going by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) forecasts, the regional unemployment rate in countries including Bangladesh is destined to remain at 3.6 per cent until 2020. While the CPD's cautious optimism is important, the ILO's positive comments might give the policy-makers a sigh of relief. The CPD is concerned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) up to 2030, being especially focused on keeping unemployment under a reasonable limit. As the laws of economics would say, unemployment may rise even in a growing economy, which is adapting to new technological innovations making a whole range of jobs redundant. One does not have to go back to JM Keynes for this, rather realities in the recent past seem to underline the actual state of affairs. For the serious work inside factories, any single recourse to technological innovation, although increasing production, creates a bitter situation wherein some workers are laid off. These, the policy makers, have to bear in mind.
The ILO has come up with the encouraging scenario that Bangladesh's job rate exceeds the global average. However, the same report says that there remains substantial youth unemployment. Then there is the crunch line: Bangladesh, along with a few others, is characterised by 'poor and low quality jobs', an anathema to 'fair and decent' living. A large share of labour force is thereby exposed to the 'heightened risk of poverty'. This is what everyone wants to avoid. Then there is the issue of structural reform that brings in the question of specific skills and aptitude in a labour force. While employment in agriculture went down as many went off to the manufacturing and service sectors, the resultant state of affairs did not create any significant change in job quality, job security or income stability. All these create a rather paradoxical situation for the labour market.
One of the CPD's emphases is on empowering the marginalised youths through effective public service deliveries. This devolves a whole range of responsibilities on the part of government. But the private sector too must step in. The task of creating 30 million new jobs by 2030, the target year of the SDGs, would be unattainable unless the public and private sectors work in tandem. The youth, according to the CPD, rise to one third of the total labour force with a rescaling of the youth age-group to 15-29 years. As the ILO report says, 2.2 million youths enter the labour force every year against 1.3 million new jobs, this creates a 'mismatch' between increasing numbers of youths as against slow creation of new jobs. The CPD report along with the ILO study may not have painted too depressing a scenario for the immediate future, at least till 2030. However, improvement in public service delivery, having a clear-cut plan for the upcoming Special Economic Zones and the district-level BSCIC industrial areas and imparting extensively more skills to the marginalised youth hold the key to achieving the goals set for the next ten years. The country cannot have the luxury of missing the lead time for reaping the demographic dividends it is so potentially endowed with.
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