A new internship policy in Bangladesh aims to bridge the governance divide between the youth and the government. The policy has its genesis in an internship program started by CRi-Young Bangla.
On October 22, 2023, the Ministry of Public Administration (MoPA) under the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) announced the country’s first ever ‘Internship Policy 2023’ to allow graduates and postgraduates to intern at government, semi-government, autonomous and private organizations of the country. As 4-5 million undergraduate students graduate from various public and private universities of the country each year and seek to enter the highly competitive job market, this article looks into some of the challenges of the Bangladeshi graduate labor market and how the recently formulated internship policy may ease the sufferings of the country’s youth.
The internship policy formulated in October 2023 is the first of its kind in Bangladesh. Previously, the Government of Bangladesh did not provide any opportunities for internships or placements within the public sector employment framework. That changed in 2015, when Young Bangla, the youth-platform of the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), launched the Vision 2021 Internship Programme.
Since its launch, the programme made arrangements for placing 2,850 youth as interns with various government ministries, not-for-profit organizations, and private sector entities, as interns. Within the public sector, internships were arranged at the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Division, the Local Government Engineering Division (LGED), and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). For these government departments, the programme acted as almost a pilot programme.
For Young Bangla, the objective behind the programme was to introduce youth to the workings of the government, namely, how a government runs, how budgets are allocated, how difficult policy decisions are taken, how resource allocation choices are made and so on. The demand for such opportunities came up time and again in the platform’s engagement with the youth since 2013.
A few years of operation showed positive feedback not only from the youth interns, but also from the receiving government ministries and divisions who hugely benefited from the youth’s presence and ideas at their traditional workplaces. The sustained policy advocacy from CRI-Young Bangla ultimately led to the decision of the government to formulate a policy for giving internships a long-term presence in the government.
Excess of Graduate Supply
The graduate labor market of the country can be divided into primarily two sectors: public and private. With the country’s startup culture at its onset, most university graduates still aim to land a stable job in either the public or private sector instead of building their own business. Both the public and private sector of the country fail to accommodate this huge number of graduates as the labor market has an excess in supply. For instance, in the public sector, around 346,000 jobseekers wrote the papers of one of the most competitive exams in the country, Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) exam whereas the number of available positions in the 45th BCS was only 2,390.
However, on the bright side, the unemployment rate is gradually declining as more jobs are being created in the economy due to a combination of public and private initiatives. In 2020, the unemployment rate of the country was 5.21% which fell down to 4.70% in 2022. Despite such advances, the fresh graduates experience a myriad of other problems.
Experience Required, Connection Matters!
One of those problems is unfair and discriminatory recruitment policies adopted by some of the private companies in Bangladesh. Some companies seek prior experience for trainee or entry level positions well-suited for fresh university graduates. Gathering such professional experience while pursuing an undergraduate degree with rigorous coursework is, for most students, exceedingly challenging. Thus, so many recent university graduates fail to meet the criteria to apply for the job positions in the first place.
Knowing the right people is perhaps one of the most valuable skills while getting someone’s desired jobs. Though networking is a skill that should be practiced and exercised by all, often so many opportunities are gatekeeped – alienating a lot of graduates from such opportunities. Top business, engineering and other schools gatekeep employment opportunities for their respective students. As top schools have a strong alumni network, their respective alumni tend to pass on employment opportunities to the students of their own university. As a consequence, universities who have a limited alumni base, often fail to generate and offer lucrative job opportunities to their newly university graduates. Such gatekeeping by the existing employers of many private companies makes best job offers inaccessible to most students, except for the top universities.
Another key issue is the persisting industry-academia gap in Bangladesh. The country is suffering from an acute skill challenge. In 2021, a study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) showed that 46% of employers reported a dearth of skilled applicants for professional positions. In 2019, the World Bank revealed that 69% of employers indicated a knowledge and skill deficiency of job applicants for high-level roles such as managers, professionals, technicians etc.
Outdated curriculum and ineffective pedagogy in universities fail to adapt to the evolving market landscape. Universities are not providing students with necessary knowledge and skills that will make them employable to employers. Especially, in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the job market is rapidly evolving. The past run-of-the-mill jobs are being replaced by more dynamic and flexible jobs. The concept of ‘Job for Life’ has become a relic of the past. The existing tertiary education institutions have been unsuccessful in equipping students with such skills. Academia, for long, has treated industry as a distinct entity. As a result, academia does not update the curriculum and pedagogy while not accounting for the on-demand skills currently in the market.
Overview: Internship Policy 2023
Internships are the missing piece in the puzzle as internships allow students to get hands-on experience in the real world. To address the above-mentioned challenges head on, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) will be offering internship opportunities for university graduates in different ministries, government offices and so on.
With 2-month unpaid leave for emergencies
According to the recently formulated Internship Policy, the internship period will be for 3 to 6 months. The interns or trainees will receive an allowance in exchange for their services. For emergency needs, 2-month leave will be granted to the interns but they won’t be receiving any salary while on leave. Alongside allowances, after completing the internship, interns will be presented with a certificate. It’s important to note that such internship roles do not reflect any primacy or privilege over other job opportunities.
Minimum Requirement: Graduation
Application within 2 years of graduation
Meritocracy will be ensured in every step of the selection process. Interns will be recruited based on the academic performance and requirements of the pertinent state institution. Applicants need to have a minimum Bachelor’s degree or equivalent and applicants have to apply within two years of their graduation or post-graduation. The internship opportunity will be offered to each candidate only once.
However, law enforcement agencies, including military, civilian, paramilitary, security agencies, intelligence agencies, government-declared key point installations, and any position that is vulnerable to national security issues won’t be included in these internship programs.
The internship policy is inclusive, aims to facilitate equality of opportunities for all and to leave no one behind by encouraging applications from women, people with disabilities and various minority and ethnic communities.
The real question is whether such an internship policy will be beneficial for both the graduates and the government.
First, experience gained from the internship programs will boost the resumes of interns. As a result, while applying for jobs in the private sector, graduates can show their prior experience as an intern in a government organization.
Such internships may also aid in the candidate’s academic career as well. Students, after completion of the internship, will be able to add the internship as a work experience before applying to different graduate programs like Master of Public Policy (MPP). The work experience with the government will establish credibility of the graduates which will open many doors in future.
Second, interns will be able to gain hands-on experience on the inner workings of the government. They will be able to familiarize themselves with the country’s governance, administrative procedures and policy formulation and implementation. Through the internship program, they will be able to enhance their knowledge and skill set by learning from real world problems at the policy level. Especially, individuals who aim to land government jobs like BCS, such early exposure in the government would allow them to gain valuable insights. While working with seasoned professionals, the graduates will be able to develop and further strengthen their leadership, communication, team management and problem solving skills.
Third, working in a government office is a huge networking opportunity for the graduates. Interns will be able to make meaningful connections during the internship which may aid them in private sector jobs in future.
Fourth, such internships may aid in the candidate’s academic career as well. Students, after completion of the internship, will be able to add the internship as a work experience before applying to different graduate programs like Master of Public Policy (MPP). The work experience with the government will establish credibility of the graduates which will open many doors in future.
First, the young interns can bring substantial change in the environment of these grim and mundane government offices. Mostly run by middle aged and elderly officials, the fresh minds can bring a positive energy to the workplace as the youth are driven by enthusiasm, passion and creativity. The positive change in the workplace environment will, in turn, motivate the government employees to find their passion and love for the work.
Second, these seasoned government officials will be mentoring the next generation of policy makers and government officials which can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for the senior government officials.
Third, the internship programs will be instrumental in providing a quality citizen experience. The government agencies are often far distant from the real wants, demands and challenges of the ordinary citizens. The new young interns will be able to build a bridge between the government and citizens as the interns will bring a citizen-centric perspective to the table.
Success of the internship policy would depend on a few factors, such as, how widely it is publicized among the higher educational institutions, how easy the application process is made, how the internship experiences are structured etc. It is expected that while formulating these detailed procedures and guidelines, the government keeps in mind its primary audience-the youth. If the lessons and feedback from the Vision 2021 internship programme is anything to go by, the policy will not only offer the youth a fantastic opportunity to experience the inner workings of the government, but also the government itself stands to benefit from having young and vibrant perspectives in its work.
About the Author
Shah Ali Farhad is the founder and publisher of the Confluence. He is a lawyer, policy-researcher, and political activist. He is currently engaged with the Dhaka-based think-tank, the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), as its Senior Associate. He is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and a Barrister of the Lincoln’s Inn, UK. He previously served as a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He holds a masters of public policy (MPP) from the University of Oxford, and a masters in human rights law (LLM) from the University of Hong Kong.
Shah Adaan Uzzaman is the Blog Administrator at The Confluence. A former Bangladesh Television Debate Champion and winner of several policy & debate competitions, he is currently a student of IBA, University of Dhaka.