Creating employment opportunities (The Financial Express (Bangladesh))

Unemployment is a scourge for a country. At present Bangladesh has 3.0 million (30 lakh) unemployed youth population, according to available statistics. Every year 2.0 million (20 lakh) active population is entering the labour market. The industrial sector cannot accommodate more than 30 per cent of the active labour force. More than 40 per cent of the labour force are employed in the agricultural sector. The rest is in the service sector. The service sector is the largest employment provider in Bangladesh.

No doubt, poverty level has gone down. But the large number of unemployed people is exposed to social tension and poverty. This is one of the important reasons for the unemployed people to try their fortune going abroad, legally or illegally. The recent humanitarian problem of manpower trafficking from Bangladesh to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia amply suggests the frantic efforts of the unemployed people to go abroad for earning livelihood. This tragic episode should open the eyes of the policy makers to put their untiring efforts in creating jobs at home and explore job opportunities abroad.

All concerned in Bangladesh suggest the necessity of acting promptly to capitalise on the opportunities created by demographic dividends to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty. When the share of the working age population (15-59 years) is larger than those of the non-working ages share, it results in economic growth potential helping a country to cut spending on dependents and spur economic growth. Bangladesh can enjoy the benefits of demographic dividends until 2030 after which there will be an acceleration in the numbers of the elderly people (60 years and above). By creating employment, the benefits of demographic dividends can be attained. This will result in higher per capita income and savings.

There is no denial of the fact that employment and income generation depend on capital investment in infrastructure, revolution of agriculture, improved technology, improved means of production and human resource development. All these require an appropriate policy regime covering investment, trade, education and training, health and sustainable wealth fund.

Within such a policy regime, various steps can be taken for creating job opportunities. For huge investment, domestic resources can be combined with foreign resources. Avenues should be created for attracting foreign private investment. Negotiations should be strengthened to obtain resources from international financial institutions and development partners. The public private partnership (PPP) is now-a-days recognised as an important tool of development. The success story of PPP comes from China, South Korea and India. Bangladesh has rightly accepted this strategy. But till date it could not launch the programme successfully. The weakness in the government is that it does not have a think tank which can guide and help in the success of the PPP strategy.

Foreign remittance is also considered an important tool for creation of more domestic job opportunities. Studies show that 84 per cent of the remittances are consumed in Bangladesh. It is evident that the huge flow of remittances helped reduce poverty levels, mostly through increased spending on food, housing and education. Proper measures can help diverting remittances more to savings and consequently to investment. Channelling remittances for investment requires expansion of access to formal financial services. The low rate of savings from remittances is due to a lack of trust in financial institutions, transaction cost to open a bank account, regulatory barriers like official identification documents that many poor and less educated people lack and a dearth of information and financial literary. Digital finance has an enormous potential to capture remittances in the formal financial system. The problem again is that the concerned government or financial institutions could not target the potential remitters for investment in the country. Issuing sovereign bonds to targeted non-resident nationals willing to contribute part of their savings to the development of their home country should be considered an important tool.

Bangladesh should be aggressive in hunting remittances. The government signed government (G to G) accords with Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Fruitful results have not yet been achieved. The demand for labour in Malaysia is very high. Press reports suggest that officially only twelve thousand workers have gone to Malaysia over last three years and a half. Unofficially 150,000 people as workers and 100,000 people as students and tourists went to Malaysia over the same period. This high demand should be utilised by taking vigorous diplomatic efforts by the government and giving BAIRA (Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies) the task of sending aspiring people abroad.

In this context, there is an urgent need to produce skilled manpower of international standard both for domestic and international markets. The introduction of National Skill Development Policy 2011 and the formation of National Skill Development Council headed by the Prime Minister are right steps in this direction. Suitable technical and vocational education and training are required for skill development. Perhaps about 100 public and private polytechnic institutes do not have required capacity to meet the growing demand for skilled manpower. On the other hand, we should produce more doctors, nurses and mariners to meet the demand abroad.

Unfortunately, the Labour Ministry and Ministry of Expatriate Welfare have not been given the important role of human resource development. Various ministries are doing this job. For example, the government has undertaken a project titled as Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) with a cost of Tk 8.5 billion (850 crore) in July 2010. But this project is being implemented by the Ministry of Education.

The creation of job opportunities requires multiple measures. These should be undertaken without delay in a comprehensive manner.