It is hard to get reliable data on unemployment rate in Bangladesh. The official data puts the unemployment rate at around 4.4 per cent. The figure appears too low given the situation prevailing in the job market.
The World Vision last year estimated that one in ten youths is without job in the country. According to estimate done by the International Labour Organisation in 2016, the unemployment rate among youths aged between 15 and 24 years was nearly 12 per cent.
The agriculture sector does still absorb nearly 47 per cent of the country's labour force despite the fact that the rate of underemployment and seasonal unemployment in the sector is quite high.
The official labour force survey takes into cognizance self-employed people. In fact, this particular inclusion does make the employment scenario rather rosy. But the truth is millions have been forced to do something for a living due to the non-availability of regular employment opportunities. Services sector remains to be the main providers of self-employment opportunities to millions across the country.
There is no denying that the opportunities for unskilled labourers in the domestic job market are very limited. Thus, a sizeable portion of the unskilled labour force is either pulling rickshaws or doing some other jobs to earn a living.
But the situation is worse in the case of educated youths, particularly those who have received technical education.
The general understanding is that people attending technical education do not have to wait for a long period for jobs. But the reality is entirely different. According to a study titled 'Graduate Tracer Studies' done by the World Bank (WB), 75 per cent of the polytechnic degree holders fail to get jobs at least for a year on completion of their education. And 32 per cent remain jobless for two years or more.
The situation is better in the case of university and college graduates. Their wait is far shorter than that of technical graduates.
Most people are of the opinion that universities and colleges are churning out hundreds of general graduates every year though employment opportunities are found to be very limited.
It is also widely believed that it is better to have technical education or education that has relevance to the demands in the job market.
The government, quite rightly, has been attaching importance to technical education. It has created a few relevant organisations with a view to expanding technical education. The number of institutions imparting technical education has also gone up in the private sector in recent years.
However, there remain serious problems with quality of technical education imparted to students of government and private technical institutions. Most institutions do not have adequately qualified teachers and modern facilities. The private ones are more interested in making money than imparting quality and need-based technical education. Most institutions do not have well-equipped technical labs.
More importantly, the subjects taught in these institutions, do have little relevance to the market demand. The equipment used in training of the technical graduates is outdated and the knowledge gained from those does not meet the demand of the employers.
The policymakers have not been very serious about improving the quality of technical education. They have failed to take note of the fact that Bangladesh industries, in the face of competition from other countries in the global market, are also in the midst of technological transformation albeit at a slow pace. The manufacturers are picking up new and advanced technologies to stay competitive. But the technical graduates available locally are not familiar with such technologies.
The issue of skill development is receiving special attention of the policymakers. Special bodies and schemes have been taken up to help develop enough skilled manpower for both domestic and outside markets.
But the education being imparted to students by technical and vocational institutions here is outdated and, in most cases, very low-level technology based. The diploma holders of government technical colleges are usually recruited for positions below those filled up by engineering university graduates.
It has been emphasised time and again that the country should put in place need-based education. For that, it is important to know the need first. The government cannot alone decide on the need. It has to interact with stakeholders in the manufacturing and services sectors to know their manpower requirement and only comprehensive knowledge of the issue would enable the policymakers to redesign the education policy. But it is easier said than done. The vested interest groups in the education sector are likely to resist changes.
The government, however, would have to foil such resistance. The country is already importing skilled manpower to run many advanced technology-based manufacturing units at a substantial cost. The demand for such manpower will go up in the future. The country should develop its own technical manpower base and help save the money spent on foreign technical workforce.