Approximately 63% of Bangladesh’s population is within the age group of 15-49. The demographic dividends that can follow from leveraging this age group can only be enjoyed if the workforce is equipped with the right skills and knowledge.
Now more than ever, with the 24.5 million people newly pushed into poverty, providing employment opportunities is vital in order to combat the poverty induced by the pandemic.
An ordinary girl with extraordinary ambition
Kaniz Fatema Mohona is an undergraduate student working in the retail sector. She first learnt about BRAC Institute of Skills Development’s (BISD) skills training programmes through a friend, when she was looking to financially support her family. She enrolled herself in the retail training programme while juggling college.
Watch here: BRAC Institute of Skills Development (BISD)
Upon completing her technical and vocational training, Mohona was enrolled into the Institute’s internship programme. A renowned super shop soon employed her. She later joined a perfume-based company as a salesperson.
As the pandemic hit Bangladesh, Mohona became her family’s only source of income, as her brother and mother lost their jobs. She continued to support her family and pursue her degree simultaneously.
“In our society, girls are considered a burden to their families. I prove them wrong every time I step out of my house”, says Mohona.
Can technical and vocational training leverage Bangladesh’s “demographic dividends” in a pandemic?
Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is strategically placed to provide a country’s strong economic development, especially in times of a pandemic. Its contributions within a pandemic can be divided into three phases.
In the initial phase, TVET education can step in during a pandemic where educational institutions and business enterprises are closed, by lessons provided online. The middle phase, where educational institutions and business enterprises gradually reopen, with more employment opportunities for the TVET graduates on a limited scale. During the rehabilitation phase, the education and employment sectors undergo structural change. This phase consists of predicting these structural changes, and providing customised TVET education to the youth. As such, TVET participation amongst the youth is a way forward towards sustainable livelihood, ultimately boosting the country’s economic development in times of a pandemic.
The participation rate amongst youth in TVET between 2001 to 2013 increased from 0.4% to 1.8%. Youth participation in TVET is significantly low, considering the global average enrolment in skills development programmes by secondary school graduates was 11% in 2010.
To understand the perception towards skill training amongst youth, a baseline study by BRAC found that 43% of the respondents did not seek TVET education because “it did not come to their mind”, and 23.3% of the surveyed youth “was not aware of it”. It is important for the government, private sector actors and non-government organisations to implement strategies that will reduce the information gap and promote skills training to secure employment.
Read the study: Youth perception on TVET and subsequent employment
How do we ensure employment for the youth in a pandemic?
Higher participation in TVET will result in more skilled youth. However, it is essential to understand how the employment market is changing to ensure decent employment opportunities for the target group within the age 15-29, especially in a pandemic.
In 2020, the unemployment rate in Bangladesh was 5.3%, an increase from 4.22% in 2019. This increment is a direct result of the pandemic, mostly affecting 6 million labour-intensive, low-income permanent jobs in the informal sector. It also includes a significant share of small and medium-sized enterprises, affecting 24 million people in the process.
However, temporary jobs such as contractual and day labour jobs will come back when the economy reopens. As for the ‘rehabilitation’ phase, structural changes are occurring. For example, increased utilisation of online sales and delivery mechanisms by businesses will require more delivery personals and call centre agents, creating a demand. Freelancing is also booming, as per the ICT Division of the Government of Bangladesh, this sector brings USD 100 million annually, resulting in a need for technology and IT-based skills.
Opportunities abound when it comes to youth in Bangladesh. We should capitalise on them by building capable young people through technical and non-technical skills training. The next decade could take the country to new heights if our youth are prepared for the market.
Sadman Rafid Fagun is a Senior Communication Officer at BRAC Skills Development Programme, and Kamran Ibne Abdul Qader is a Communications Specialist at BRAC Communications.