The Asian Voice

Worrying trends for the youth of Bangladesh: The Daily Star columnist

Protesters shout slogans demanding reasonable wages and workers' safety during an International Labor Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh May 1, 2017.
Protesters shout slogans demanding reasonable wages and workers' safety during an International Labor Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh May 1, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -A recent survey carried out by Prothom Alo (a Bangladeshi newspaper) on the youth's perception of the country and their future, brought out some interesting facts about job prospects in Bangladesh.

Although 74 per cent of the respondents expressed overall satisfaction with the economic situation, 82 per cent are unsure about securing a job in today's economy. Given the global recession and a lack of growth of jobs in the country, the bulk of the youths surveyed didn't provide an optimistic outlook about finding meaningful employment.

Their remarks are not off the mark when we look at the data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) which showed that sustained economic growth over the past few years was unable to deliver employment opportunities.

Then the question is how much of this economic growth is actually benefitting people where growth is not inclusive. That the bulk of our young people are not associated with any economic activity or any sort of skills development mechanism, leads one to the conclusion that there is a huge gulf between our expectations and the reality on the ground.

Economists have been pointing out that Bangladesh's economic growth has been performing satisfactorily with 6 to 7 per cent GDP growth. However, employment opportunities have not been on par with this growth, which leads one to think that mere economic growth does not automatically guarantee employment. Similar sentiments were echoed by South Asian Network for Economic Modelling (SANEM) in its quarterly review on the Bangladesh economy.

It states that although the economy has performed well, the job market has not grown correspondingly, and hence the conditions of the people have not improved markedly.

Similarly, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) stated in its discussion on the latest budget that the nation is fast headed towards a great depression to be triggered by joblessness. We now have more than 30 per cent unemployment rate among the educated class.

So we are actually in the midst of a jobless growth where the standard of living for the common people does not improve despite a growing economy.

Bangladesh is experiencing a persistent unemployment problem, which is getting worse by the day. Recent media reports point out that the economy creates only two million jobs every year, but a mere 600,000 new jobs were created during 2014 and 2015.

We have to contend with the fact that investment in the private sector has remained stubbornly low over the past few years, so where will the new jobs come from? Again, policy action remains unclear as to how to boost domestic investment, and regardless of all the hype centring on foreign direct investment, it is obvious that the job sector will get a boost if domestic investment grows.

Policies need to be undertaken to revamp the skills development sector. Technical education remains below par and the few technical education institutions that we have in the country are not churning out enough skilled workers either for the domestic or the overseas market.

Young graduates have to get used to the idea that not all of them will be absorbed into the formal job sector and many will have to become self-employed. For them to develop entrepreneurial skills, we need to revamp our system of education which does not truly equip them for a life in business.

Education can no longer be limited to coaching-centre-based education and the pursuit of GPA 5 results. It needs to be a knowledge-based pursuit that requires a rethink at the policy level on what is being taught in our schooling system and what should be taught. Young people need to learn to think for themselves and we need to give them the tools for that thought process to begin early on.

There is a host of structural changes that need to be undertaken and those will not necessarily be painless. For a healthy growth in the job market, we will have to undergo serious policy changes in various sectors of the economy. A failure to make these will mean tens of thousands of young educated people joining the ranks of the millions unemployed with little hope for a better future.

Hopelessness is a dangerous thing nowadays, especially in an age of extremism where the tendency of extremist outfits is to draw upon the educated to carry out destructive activities. We do not need to go there. What we need is a wake-up call that will help Bangladesh reap the demographic dividend.

Syed Mansur Hashim is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.