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85% of employment in Bangladesh is in the informal sector, yet training opportunities in the sector are limited. BRAC’s skills training for advancing resources (STAR) provides a platform for young people to hone their skills, build confidence and take charge of their livelihoods.
In Bangladesh, 35% of secondary school students do not complete secondary education. Nearly half of girl students dropout, owing to child marriage, an inability to pay for schooling, and needing to contribute to household earnings.
Yet, women’s participation in Bangladesh’s informal labour sector is only 35%. This prompts an urgent need for more skills-based education opportunities, especially for adolescent girls.
Through engaging young people in classroom and on-the-job training, the STAR project has been working to address this gap since 2012. Young people between the ages of 14 and 18 train to develop a skill, and are then placed as apprentices at the workplaces of their trainers. As of 2022, STAR has graduated approximately 120,000 apprentices, over half of whom are women.
STAR’s decade-long intervention offers five learnings that could help increase women’s participation in the skills sector globally:
Ensure decent workplace conditions
85% of Bangladesh’s labour force is employed in the informal economy. A lack of women-friendly work environment in the sector creates a significant barrier for women pursuing hands-on training and work.
STAR selects its trainers – referred to as master craftspersons – based on a set of selection criteria that covers availability of toilet facilities, drinking water and a gender-sensitive work environment during the six-month training period.
Unsurprisingly, this has proven to have strong retention rates – 90% of STAR’s participants have continued working with their designated master craftspersons even after their training had ended. Participants also learn about the features of a decent work environment, so that they’re aware of their right to decent workplace conditions.
Minimise costs of attendance
Women and adolescent girls from households living in extreme poverty are often excluded from being able to access decent work opportunities. Learners under STAR are selected from such households where individual daily income is less than USD 2.15.
Many learners live in vulnerable conditions, having survived child marriage, living with a disability, belonging to the transgender community, or displaced from their homes due to the effects of the climate crisis.
Each learner receives a travel allowance of BDT 800 (USD 7.85) monthly under the project. This amount covers the transportation costs of most learners, as on-the-job training locations are kept as close as possible to their own neighbourhoods, often within 3-4km from their homes, removing financial strain, ensuring ease of travel and reducing obligations from family members in regards to security and costs of attendance.
Strengthen soft skills
Many women and adolescent girls who drop out of school often have little to no access to information on livelihood opportunities, forcing them to lag behind men in the job market.
STAR addresses this information barrier by introducing soft skills training to learners. The module, which combines classroom-based and on-the-job training, covers employability, communication, digital literacy, financial literacy, psychosocial issues, and social and environmental awareness.
These classes are designed to boost the learners’ self-esteem and confidence, both professionally and personally, and provide them with a theoretical understanding of the market.
Research shows that learners who have had the training experienced significant increase in incomes in the long term and have high retention rates in the labour market, compared to employees who did not receive the training.
Provide pathways into interesting professions
Hobbies and interests can be transformed into careers. Research shows that when learners’ interests match the training courses, their participation rate goes up. STAR identifies trades which are high in demand by assessing the local job markets, and offers courses that are relevant to learners’ interests.
Popular trades include graphics designing, beautification, tailoring and mobile phone servicing. Learners choose specific skills that they are interested in, and develop the confidence to turn their interests into skills, and then professions.
Ensure security through a buddy system
Unhealthy, gender-insensitive working environments act as a barrier for women to engage in the informal job sector. Women and adolescent girls are further discouraged if the commute to and from their work is unsafe.
The risk of harassment is significantly lower when women travel with a companion or in groups. STAR pairs its learners with other women learners from neighbouring households, working to boost their confidence in overcoming fear of danger both in commutes and at the workplace.
Women face significantly more barriers than men in accessing and completing skills training programmes in developing countries like Bangladesh, negatively affecting women’s participation in the labour force. Lessons from STAR can be used to scale up similar initiatives that work to make skills more accessible, and are effective in the application of similar initiatives globally that share a similar goal – to support women as they build their own confidence, develop new skills and strengthen their financial capacities and economic development.
BRAC has been providing alternative livelihood solutions and learning pathways for young people since 2012. The programme is working towards gender equality, disability inclusion, skills – technical and vocational training, decent work and economic growth.
Joydeep Sinha Roy is the Head of Operations and Shifur Rahman Shakil is the Senior Manager at BRAC’s Skills Development Programme.