Is Bangladesh prepared for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the challenges it presents, such as the potential displacement of workers due to automation? The World Economic Forum predicts that the 4IR will also bring new job opportunities. To successfully navigate these changes, Bangladesh needs to develop a workforce that can adapt to evolving labor market conditions and continuously acquire new skills. Lifelong learning and adaptability will be essential for individuals to remain competitive in the global market.
Bangladesh, like countries across the globe, is entering into the era of the fourth industrial revolution that will disrupt the socio-economic landscape of the country. The advances made in achieving a Digital Bangladesh has laid the groundwork for Smart Bangladesh that aims to address the challenges of 4IR. Industry 4.0 expands the scope of inventions and areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, autonomous guided vehicles, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), blockchain, nanotechnology, renewable energy, additive manufacturing (3D printing), quantum computing etc. The country needs to navigate and prepare its way through these new technologies and industries that will replace the existing ones and unsettle the current labor market conditions.
McKinsey Global Institute estimated that around 400 to 800 million people could be replaced by automation which includes 5.7 million Bangladeshi workers and may need to search for new jobs by 2030 around the globe. Many jobs that will be created due to the 4IR don’t even exist now. In the upcoming years, domestic and international labor markets will be driven by rapid transformations in technology, climate change and socio-economic shifts.
However, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 states that many companies across the globe have started a reorientation of their business model. Due to the transformation of production methods, new professions will emerge. Despite initial job displacement, the 4IR will eventually create new ways of working for greater prosperity. The report estimates that, by 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge to offset the 85 million job losses from the traditional industries which will lead to a net job creation of 12 million by 2025.
Therefore, Bangladesh needs to create a labor force that can adapt to the evolving labor market conditions and consistently learn new skills and technologies. ‘Job for life’ has become an archaic concept in the age of 4IR. Throughout their lifetime, individuals will have to acquire new skills for entirely new jobs or industries to remain resilient and embrace ‘lifelong learning’. The new professions will necessitate much more creativity, flexibility and transferable skills than are required by current run-of-the-mills jobs. Organizations including governments or private companies will be scouting for adaptable employees who will be willing to consistently re-skill and up-skill themselves to remain competitive in the global market.
Bangladesh’s export earnings in 2022 was 52.08 billion USD. As an export-oriented nation, Bangladesh mostly exports labor-intensive manufactured items such as ready-made garments where the nation has a competitive advantage, while domestic demand for manufactured goods is also labor-intensive. In 4IR, the new tech-savvy and knowledge-based industries will be impacting the work pattern. Bangladesh has not yet adopted the current level of awareness regarding industry 4.0’s revolutionary disruptive technologies which will be instrumental for the country to advance economically. Workers, SMEs, and local corporations lack the necessary knowledge and resources to adapt to Industry 4.0, which will eventually cause them to lag behind.
In the status quo, Bangladeshi labor market suffers from an acute skill challenge. Bangladeshi universities have failed to produce skilled graduates that can satiate the demands of the existing as well as emerging industries. A survey conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) in 2021 reveals that 66% of graduates affiliated with the National University are unemployed. A lack of focus in research & innovation and not preparing with industry-driven knowledge in universities are one of the major causes of the failure of Bangladeshi tertiary education.
Bangladesh is the eighth most populous nation in the world with a higher rate of working age population. According to the 2022 Bangladeshi census, the working age population of Bangladesh between 15 and 64 years has increased from 2011 to 2022 – rising to 65.5% of the total population. A survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) showcases that around 37.1 million individuals fell in the Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) category, and of them, around 12.6 million (roughly 27%) are aged between 15 and 29 years. Whereas countries such as Germany, Japan, South Korea are struggling with their increasing aging population, Bangladesh has an abundance of human resources who can be productive and meaningful contributors to the economy as well as society of Bangladesh.
If Bangladesh doesn’t take necessary steps to prepare for 4IR, it would have to import both labor and technology required to enter into 4IR which will be extremely expensive. Thus, investing in the youth skill development for 4IR is crucial to become a tech-exporting economy. The government should actively reskill and upskill at-risk or displaced workers due to the 4IR.
National Skills Development Policy
The government has formulated a demand-driven, inclusive, and country-specific National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) 2011. This policy has been the crucial driver in Bangladesh’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET). The draft of the National Skills Development Policy 2020 focuses on skills development for the emerging technologies including 4IR and digital skills and training relating to climate change initiatives. The draft also includes national skills qualifications frame, skills quality assurance mechanism and competency-based training and assessment, provision of apprenticeship for employment, entrepreneurship in skills development training, lifelong learning, recognition of prior learning (RPL), skills development for overseas employment and inclusion of underserved and minority groups.
The Finance Division of GoB has formed a National Human Resource Development Fund as envisaged in the National Skill Development Policy 2011.
National Skills Development Authority
Previously, the National Skills Development Council under the Ministry of Labour was a less-empowered agency and proven ineffective in equipping the youth with pertinent skills. In 2019, GoB established the National Skills Development Authority (NSDA). To consolidate its government, the agency was placed under the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The NSDA has been mandated to implement the National Skills Development Policy by undertaking necessary initiatives in the path of youth skill development.
National Youth Policy
Government of Bangladesh’s National Youth Policy 2017 aims to deal with various aspects including education, training, employment and entrepreneurship. The policy intends to provide necessary education and training to acquire the skills to adapt with new technological changes and be employable or self-employed.
National Employment Policy
The National Employment Policy 2022 intends to develop an internationally competitive skilled labor force so that the youth can seek employment. The policy outlines sector-specific strategies for manufacturing, IT, maritime etc. The policy also aims to generate 30 million jobs by 2030.
Bangladesh National Qualification Framework
To provide an inclusive education and allow people to move easily between different education systems, a Bangladeshi version of Single National Curriculum (SNC) is necessary to entirely harmonize primary, secondary, technical, madrasah and other tertiary education streams. Hence, GoB is currently working on the Bangladesh National Qualification Framework that combines general and technical education streams into an integrated framework.
In 2018, Bangladesh Accreditation Council (BAC) was established to provide accreditation to tertiary education institutions of Bangladesh to further promote quality higher education.
Technical and Vocational Education & Training (TVET)
As envisioned in the National Skills Policy 2011, GoB has been proactive in establishing TVET centers across the country and providing in-demand skills to the youth. During COVID-19, GoB provided a hybrid form of offline and online TVET education. The ILO’s Skills 21 Project is also collaborating with the government to strengthen the TVET stream.
Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP)
With the support of Asian Development Bank, GoB has developed the Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) to encourage large-scale private sector involvement and public-private partnerships to enhance both basic and mid-level technical skills in around 10 priority sectors – ICT, garments and textiles, leather and footwear, construction, light engineering, shipbuilding, agricultural-processing, tourism and hospitality, nursing, caregiver and health technology, motor driving with basic maintenance and renewable energy. SEIP is also working to develop the Industry Skill Council (ISC) to work as a link between NSDA and industries to help the industries remain innovative with globally in-demand and relevant skills.
The program has established 4 Executive Development Centers (EDCs) at 4 universities – Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka (IBA DU), Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX), East West University and BRAC University. The primary objective behind establishing these EDCs is to develop highly skilled managers in textile, knitwear, garments, leather, and footwear sectors that are now imported from foreign countries resulting in huge outflow of foreign exchange from Bangladesh.
The program is also developing a real time online training management system (TMS) to document all important gender segregated information related to the training activities including enrolment, dropout, assessment, certification, job placement etc.
Economic Acceleration and Resilience for NEET (Earn) Project
To include the 0.9 million Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) individuals into the mainstream economy and society, the Economic Acceleration and Resilience for NEET (Earn) project will establish 16,000-18,000 training centers at village level. Beneficiaries of this project from 250 upazilas will be aged between 15-29 years and at least 70% of them will be female. 0.1 million dropouts will receive stipends to get a second shot in education. Over 50,000 individuals will receive direct employment during the project’s implementation.
For Bangladesh’s great success in youth skills development Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received the ‘Champion of Skill Development for Youth’ award from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2019.
Establishing systems enabling people to keep learning and improving their abilities over the course of their careers. Establishing adaptable learning routes that allow professionals to gain new skills and adjust to shifting employment needs, such as online platforms, micro-credentials, and certification programmes. Instead of giving separate skills learning programs or social safety nets, providing lifelong social safety nets with skill programs in a particular aspect with policy cards could be effective.
Currently, Bangladesh’s research expenditure is 0.30 percent of her GDP, which should be increased gradually to at least 2.5 percent of GDP. In China, the rate of total expenditure on research and development (R&D) amounted to nearly 3.09 trillion yuan (about 456 billion U.S. dollars) in 2022. From 0.56 percent in 1996 to till now the upward trend in research expenditure is the reason for youth development in this growing economy.
Improving the standard and applicability of TVET courses in Bangladesh. Work with businesses to develop partnerships for industry attachments and apprenticeships and to connect curricula with changing skill demands. For example, a collaboration with private skill training institutes and ed-techs such as 10 MS School, Shikho can be beneficial for the government which will largely serve young career-seekers and mid-/late- career professionals. The curriculum needs to focus on green economy, blue economy, 4IR technologies and any new potential industry that will be relevant in the future.
Tertiary education is regarded highly in Bangladeshi society as opposed to TVET stream. Thus, the government alongside private partners have to actively rebrand TVET education in Bangladesh so that it is not perceived as a place of last resort. Singapore has been able to successfully promote TVET education since 1992. Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education is one good example of such an advance.
In order to build a linkage between recruiters and youths, arrangement of career fests in universities and national colleges can be helpful. The number of career fests or on-campus recruitment methods is still very limited in Bangladesh. The National Skills Development Authority can play a vital role in bringing together government, industry, and academia to implement pertinent policies for reskilling and upskilling.
Encouraging cooperation with international associations, institutes of higher learning, and nations that run top-notch skill-development initiatives. Best practices are traded, resources are shared, and successful methods used in other nations are studied. For instance, a2i is collaborating with Singapore Polytechnic and Singapore’s Temasek Foundation for capacity building of the country’s youth.
In the 4 IR the utilization of AI tools can enhance the youth skills and develop the workforce structure substantially, Tools such as- Ivy Chatbot, Cognii, Plaito, Gradescope etc can be used to reskill the marginalized youths at home with a low cost.
Skill development programs directly targeted towards Madrasah students will be quintessential in integrating this huge population into the mainstream economy.
Teaching children skills relevant to 4IR such as coding from an early age will equip them with necessary skills to adapt to 4IR.
About the Author
A R Tahseen Jahan is a Research Associate at The Confluence and a student of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka. She is also serving as an Editor at Dhaka University Law and Politics Review.
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.