In a conversation, Tasmiah Rahman, Associate Director, Skills Development Programme at BRAC talks about the impediments that are holding back TVET education in Bangladesh, the future of work, and how Bangladesh’s youth can better prepare themselves for the future.
Although skill development through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has been widely encouraged for youths in Bangladesh for decades, a significant portion of our population considers the endeavour futile or demeaning. Why is TVET training still undervalued in wider Bangladeshi society?
We conducted a study titled ‘Youth Perception on Technical Vocational Education and Training of Subsequent Employment’ in 2019 that elaborately explicates peoples’ aggregate attitude towards TVET. Lack of information and negative perceptions about TVET among the youth and their parents have been the biggest impediment to catalysing its adaptation in the country.
The negative attitude stems from their expectations from academia, which has been dramatically impacted by how education has been delivered in our country. We have focused on increasing our literacy rate and overall school attendance for the past five decades, but, have failed to prioritise quality education and skill development. Parents generally have very stereotypical expectations of their children’s academic endeavours; they expect them to go for university education, work for a company, or go abroad. Most of these trajectories require a general educational background rather than technical education.
The government is now attempting to work on those alignments through Bangladesh National Qualification Framework (BNQF). For example, if you are a diploma engineer today, you could eventually be eligible to complete a four-year undergrad course at BUET. Practically, this trajectory should be parallel or horizontal – if enrolment at an engineering school were not feasible for me due to my financial constraints or academic shortcomings, I would study at a polytechnical institution. However, I then risk being perceived as a second-class engineer. Parents and children also have this same perception and as a result, are not seeing TVET as their number one priority.
We need to strengthen TVET and its delivery as they have done in Germany and India. If the quality is enhanced, and the youth realises that it can yield better opportunities than a traditional master’s degree, we can expect to see more people opting for TVET.
The BRAC Institute of Skills Development (BRAC-ISD) has an enviable success rate, with more than 81% of its graduates securing jobs in Bangladesh and abroad. What has been the secret to the institute’s continuous success?
BRAC-ISD’s success can be attributed to its holistic training approach, which is deeply rooted in our modus operandi. It starts with targeting the right youth and having high-standard training facilities. Our programs heavily emphasise practical training and we ensure that our lab is set up to a very high standard, ideal for our trainees to prepare themselves for the challenges they will face in the workplace. This is important because when we take our students to potential employers, they can showcase their practical knowledge and get employed based on their skills.
We also teach communication skills such as writing CVs and preparing for job interview processes which makes our students more employable. We have a total of 11 centres across the country in major locations like Chottogoram, Sylhet, and Rajshahi, to name a few, and a strong employer network, particularly in Dhaka. To ensure our trainees are job-ready, we set up meetings with employers and provide handholding support throughout their journey. We believe this support is crucial in helping them succeed in their chosen career paths.
Therefore, targeting the right person for the right training, giving students practical training and employability skills, and connecting them to employers have been the cornerstone of BRAC ISD’s success.
What are the biggest challenges in delivering/undertaking TVET education in Bangladesh?
Ensuring a competent and effective TVET infrastructure can be expensive. Contrary to the stereotypical belief in Bangladesh, TVET education is not cheap. For instance, training centres in Bangladesh always lag behind and struggle to catch up to new demands as technology changes faster than a training centre set-up time. Because the industry is moving faster, investments must be made in the right places – technology, equipment and collaboration with employers.
Collaboration is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful TVET infrastructure as there is no alternative practical work in the factory. In recent times, the Bangladesh government offered lucrative incentives for industries that are willing to provide training to different groups of people, including the relatively disadvantaged youth population, women, and people with disabilities. But I don’t think it’s significant enough that employers will be interested. They are constantly vocal about the lack of human resources, but if we ask them to invest in training, they are unwilling to bear that expense but expect someone else to pay. If you are not investing in developing your own workers, how will you get good-quality workers?
There is no alternative to developing workers for the entire industry while learning how to retain people. So, for apprenticeship-based training, both for informal and formal industries, the TVET sector needs to prioritise working very closely with industries to receive practical training and internships. Being employed after completing training is the right pathway, instead of setting up separate training centres because centres will always lag behind in investing in new technology.
As someone working to facilitate better employment for a diverse group of people for the past fifteen years, what is your take on the future of work, and how should our youth prepare for it?
In Bangladesh, everything is still very hands-on and network specific. So, while we all think machines will take over going forward, how you utilise these machines to advance yourself is even more critical. There is also the need for quality education to focus on building competency. Our current academic evaluation process has essentially become memory tests. As a result, more and more young people are losing interest and leaning towards social media and games. So, we need to work on inspiring people to hone their skills in diverse areas including languages and communication. We need to teach young people how they will ‘learn to learn’ rather than bombarding them with the information they need to memorise for exams.
Although it’s very difficult to predict the path of technological advancement, ed-tech, fintech, and biotech are shaping up to become the future of work. So, how you manoeuvre technology and use it to attain growth will be pivotal. Concurrently, people’s empathy, and social and emotional intelligence and the learners and advocates of these things, for example, psychologists and caregivers, will perhaps be in a lot of demand. So, it’s essential for kids nowadays to get into these spectrums. Either be a psychologist, be a caregiver, or be good at technology.
Employment opportunity is also a pivotal issue for persons with disabilities in our country. How is BRAC ISD accommodating itself to create more opportunities for the disabled community in Bangladesh?
Across all our programs, we have a 1% yearly budget to work for people with disabilities. Our centres have reasonable accommodations. We have a special apprenticeship program that we have been doing for a decade now, which is for adolescents and youth from children from rural communities or urban and semi-urban communities. We connect them to local small business store owners, give the business owners pedagogical training, training on inclusion, occupational health and safety, and place youth in their shops for six months for practical training. Once a week, these learners receive theoretical training and training on life skills. On successful completion of the programme, we help them seek employment. So, in those areas, we successfully work with persons with disabilities. Last year, we trained more than 1000 persons with disabilities following this model all across Bangladesh; children there, and our partners were Sightsavers, ADD International, Bangladesh, and the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), among others.
While working with people with disabilities, the biggest challenge we face is identifying people with disabilities and linking them to government support services like the Golden Citizenship Card. The process is convoluted and not very accessible to everyone. Therefore, we have to work with what we have. Currently, we depend on self-identification. We first identify and then support them with the assistive devices they need; we link them to the proper authorities so that they can avail of their government-mandated person with disability identification (golden card), allowing them to get government allowance, sensitise store owners and the market, and then continue to work.
On the other hand, formal employment is more complex. The sector has not shown much interest in accommodating people with disabilities. For example, in retail sales, we want to encourage more employment for people with disabilities, but owners are unwilling because of the negative perceptions they are still burdened with. It’s a perception issue that lives only in the owners’ minds. There are miles to go, even in terms of learning materials. You hardly have TVET materials that are for people with disabilities. We developed a few, and they are currently undergoing approval by the National Skills Development Authority. So there is a lot to be done here.
Photograph: Nazmul Haque Sagor