TVET For the NEET

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How the undervaluation of vocational training in Bangladesh is impeding the utilisation of our demographic dividend.


 

Conventional education teaches us almost everything theoretically. However, learning something by hand makes a massive difference in the way we learn. For example – imagine there was a cookoff between someone who has read a thousand cookbooks versus someone who has been cooking for 10 years. Who according to you would win? Perhaps, the most important benefit of vocational training is that it helps to bridge the skills gap between work and education.

Vocational training is hands-on, instruction-based programs or courses focusing on the skills required for a particular job function or trade. Training like this often leads to some sort of a certification, a diploma or perhaps even an associate’s degree. Those who prefer not to go into conventional forms of education, or wish to enhance their skill set in addition to it, often opt for vocational training.

In a country like Bangladesh, where a majority of the population is young, around 40% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training). In numbers, this accounts for 11.6 million young people, a fifth of the total working population. This gives Bangladesh the third worst NEET rating in the Asia-Pacific region, behind Maldives and Yemen, both countries embroiled in war or political strife. Out of these inactive youth, almost 62% are women, a figure that speaks volumes about underlying issues such as child marriage, discrimination, and inequality in tackling environmental factors.

The word ‘inactive’ might sound as if these youths have chosen not to work out of will but this is not true. These youths would rather be educating themselves or working jobs that pay them a decent wage. Unfortunately, training and educational programs that are currently available to them fall short of preparing them for jobs that would earn them a wage worth a dignified life.

 

 

These young people, at most risk of marginalisation from the labour market and society, are not simply a sad, economic waste, but also liable to become social risks. World Bank economist, Zahid Khan has been quoted to say, “They become easy prey for evil forces that derail them. They are the people who could produce the demographic dividend, but we are wasting that advantage.” The Convenor of the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs cited the lack of necessary industrial growth to be one of the factors for why decent jobs are not being offered to these youth and likened the job crisis situation of Bangladesh to a ‘ticking time bomb.’

 


A critical look at the skills development scenario unfolding in Bangladesh tells us that Bangladesh has a workforce of 60 million people and adds 2 million youths to its workforce every year. Even if access to education has grown, a vast majority of the working population does not have general education or any form of occupational skill training.


 

As of now, more than 80% of such workers are employed in the informal economy and unregulated economic activities in both rural and urban areas. These activities often require a low skill set and employers, whether self-employed or working for small enterprises, provide them with low wages in return for work. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) cannot do much for such workers. However, giving them decent work, with better productivity, earnings, and social protection and thereby changing their condition to something that is more up-to-standard and in alignment with the living costs in the country is imperative, and quite frankly, urgent.

A critical look at the skills development scenario unfolding in Bangladesh tells us that Bangladesh has a workforce of 60 million people and adds 2 million youths to its workforce every year. Even if access to education has grown, a vast majority of the working population does not have general education or any form of occupational skill training. Past data has shown that 50% of the workers had little to no education and a mere 6% had tertiary education. Tapping into more recent data can tell you that skill-training opportunities arising from diplomas, certifications and short courses with formal education prerequisites and course contents affiliated with the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) only help around 500,000 trainees each year. Another half a million take up flexible, short courses with diverse content, most of which is not regulated by the BTEB, but is offered by NGOs and private providers. Out of this million, 75% of the trainees are expected to complete the full length of their training, and therefore the number of trained workers stands at around 750,000 people per year.

There are four points that stand out from the above assessment. One, the low basic education and general competency levels place employees in a vicious loop of low productivity and low earning trap. Second, for a workforce comprising 60 million, with at least a third being within 15-24 years of age, low and mid-level skill development provisions for a mere million and 750,000 completers are inadequate, to say the least. Third, the scales are very precariously balanced between diploma or certification level versus basic level training. With plenty of workers engaged in low-skill work, only a small percentage of workers are served by the training offered. Finally, this apparent inadequacy in the number of completers and training balance is indicative of weaknesses in the market responsiveness of these training, as well as their quality and relevance.

 


Considering that the youth population of Bangladesh will continue to dominate its demography for the next three decades, it is imperative that swift action be taken to ensure the education and vocational training levels for all these people.


 

Bangladesh has chosen to work on youth employment, education and training (SDG 8) as part of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals chosen by the country. The 12 targets the country must meet to ensure the achievement of the abovementioned goal include macroeconomic measures that support job growth, development-oriented policies that support productive activities, policies to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including the young, old, and the disabled, and reducing the proportion of NEET youth. Targets are also provided to protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrants (women), and those in hazardous employment. The goal and relevant planning have been incorporated into the country’s national development goals and plans. More than 7 points directly address vocational training as one of the key drivers of success in this endeavour. These include ensuring access for all men and women to affordable and quality vocational education (and other educational forms), readying them for decent jobs, eliminating gender inequalities in the field of education and ensuring literacy and numeracy for all youth and a substantial number of adults.

Considering that the youth population of Bangladesh will continue to dominate its demography for the next three decades, it is imperative that swift action be taken to ensure the education and vocational training levels for all these people. This will ensure that the country gets the maximum benefit out of the demographic dividend these young people can offer. The government has taken a number of steps already, including the employment of technology and related knowledge solutions to enhance human capital and skills, deliver critical services effectively, and create the right synergies between knowledge, skills, and employment. This would be done through creative solutions such as establishing a wider e-learning platform, much like Coursera, called Mukti Path to help Bangladeshis develop and diversify their skills, and help create jobs. It also plans to embrace an ‘inclusive’ approach taking into account formal, informal and special groups across the economy, in order to assess changing work patterns, analyse the market, and prioritise skills development by linking up with manufacturing and service industries. Finally, a National Skills Development Authority is to be put in place, to address the full range of skills and work along with a unique ‘Skills and Employment Dashboard’ to arrange and monitor all skill development cross-sectoral initiatives. There are plans to revamp TVET to make it exciting, recognised, and modern too.

Despite high government intervention, school dropout rates remain stubborn, and a framework may be needed to track down the dropouts and figure out if they would like to be enrolled in vocational training instead. This gives them a second chance at a dignified life, and there are plenty of people who have no formal education but have migrated to other countries simply on the basis of their skills. There, they have landed successful jobs, and now are some of the biggest contributors to the economy through foreign remittance.

Much can be done in this sector; indeed, with some help from the government, it can become one of the biggest cash cows for the economy, owing to the sheer number of youths the country churns out each year. A systematic, dogged approach will be required before the country sees any improvement in the quality of vocational training and initiatives must be kickstarted now in order to diffuse this ticking time bomb and give the youth of this nation a fighting chance at a prosperous life.

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