Scaling up skills in migration

Migration through overseas employment has a remarkable impact on the national economy of Bangladesh and the socio-economic life of the country people. It helps in reducing poverty and unemployment as well as in improving the economy through remittances.

In general, two types of migration take place from Bangladesh. One is to industrialised countries as permanent residents or immigrants and the other to the Middle East and South Asian countries as short-term circular migration.

Each year, more than 2 million young people enter the workforce in Bangladesh. Local employment in the formal and informal sectors is around 1 million and on an average 0.6 million workers go abroad for overseas employment (source: LFS-BBS and BMET). So, overseas employment is very important in regard to ensuring safety, security and rights of the workers and above all for remittance earnings.

Since a large number of employment opportunities prevail abroad, the matter needs to be carefully analysed to accrue the fruits beneficially. There is criticism that Bangladeshi workers pay exorbitant migration costs and are weak in protecting their rights due to the lack of skill, work ability, knowledge and education. This criticism is, to some extent, true.

The nexus of overseas employment for Bangladesh is also complicated. Many actors are involved in the process and of course one of the main actors is the aspirant migrant worker who needs to be aware of the different aspects of the employment process. It is heard again and again that Bangladesh is not sending skilled workers and thus remittances are really disproportionate to the number of migrants in comparison to other countries.

According to the BMET database, presently 1.2 million Bangladeshi workers are working in 174 countries. Also, 43.55% skilled, 20.36% semi-skilled and 28.15% less-skilled workers had been employed abroad in 2019. These statistics tell that skilled migration has increased from the previous years in comparison with less-skilled migration. But the categorisation on the skill levels is most important on the basis of occupation level and profession. It should be supported by recognised tools of the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB). The National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) may also be entrusted with this responsibility as the apex body of administering the skill development training system of Bangladesh.

It is commonly known that skills, knowledge and education are important driving forces of economic growth and social development of a country. The country which has a greater strength of skill and educated manpower, she can suitably meet the challenges, scopes and prospects in the global discourse. So, it is very important to cater to the skilled migration issues for overseas employment. Bangladeshi workers are still struggling with skill, education and capability with their competitors, and getting lower wages which eventually affects the remittances.

It is also evident that skilled workers will not pay excess money as migration cost which is a major concern of the recruiting agents in Bangladesh. Skilled workers are also aware of their rights in workplaces. Unfortunately this is not happening in case of Bangladeshi workers and there are hence miles to go for this.

The Technical Training Centers (TTC) under the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) are responsible for providing training to produce skilled workers that are going abroad. Apart from that, there are some private training centers and different government training institutions also providing training for them. Some recruiting agencies are running some training centers and provide necessary training. But, there is no common curriculum for those training courses followed by all training institutions and the proper monitoring is absent by a competent authority. Moreover there was no initiative taken to acquire mutual recognition of the training curriculum and certification of different trades with labour receiving countries.

The demand of unskilled workers is decreasing and demand for skilled manpower is enhancing, specifically in the post COVID 19 situation. There will be a growing global demand particularly for health technicians, medical equipment technicians, etc. A study report stated that there is employment scope for 5 million workers in the biomedical equipment sector around the world. Preparations can begin from now to create a skilled workforce in this regard. Medical technician training can be provided countrywide ensuring international curriculum is followed.

To meet this opportunity, a comprehensive plan for skill development is an earnest necessity with international certification. Another approach to facilitate the employment of Bangladeshi workers would be mutual recognition of skill certification with the countries of destination (CoD). But all these efforts will be successful only when the training standard of the existing skill training system is upgraded massively to meet the international level.

One major challenge is how to ensure that a migrant’s skills in one country are recognised in another. The Mutually Recognized Skills Framework (MRS) is the answer to that question by smoothing out the negotiations between countries and facilitating the movement and employment of qualified and certified personnel. Development partners may be approached to assist in this regard to establish well-functioned mutual skills’ recognition mechanisms. This approach will promote the mobility of skilled labour through the MRS to accelerate the economic integration between Bangladesh with the CoDs. It will include i) development of competency-based curriculums and learning materials in accordance with skills/competency standards, ii) development of a communication plan to improve the awareness of the employers on the skilled manpower availability in Bangladesh, iii) upgrading of training programme to strengthen the capacities of the workers, iv) providing vocational guidance and career counselling to choose appropriate skill suitable for the migrant to adopt proper employment and v) organizing training to encourage Techno-preneurship and Entrepreneurship to the aspirant migrant workers for developing the capability of global citizenship.

Bangladeshi migrant workers have suffered most due to the worldwide spread of Covid-19. That is why it is necessary to take some steps through appropriate re-integration of them socially and economically also. This needs to provide retraining, up-skilling and enhanced re-skilling training to returning migrants.

Presently BMET is providing skill training through 70 Training Centers all over the country with an expansion project of setting up 41 more centers at upazila level. The training standard and certification should be upgraded and accredited with international level of affiliation. Language and other soft skills should also be associated with due diligence.

A common observation from employers of the CoD is that there are skill mis-matches and skill gaps with the acquired skills by the Bangladeshi workers which is the major impediment of employment by them. This also causes the US $6b remittance outflow from Bangladesh by only 200,000 foreign workers working in different sectors. BMET conducted a study on the demand of skilled workers in 53 countries. In regard to plan for the supply of the workforce to the prospective employment market, the recommendations of the study report may be implemented.

Remittance is a major benefit of the migration arena and this figure was 18.4 billion USD in 2019. This contributes about 7% to the GDP of the country. Sending more skilled workers can enhance it substantially. To ensure the recruitment of skilled workers in overseas employment, there should be an automated system of dispatch of workers. It may be web-based digitalised system in which both the Bangladesh and countries of destination would be able to track the status in the entire process of recruitment.

To achieve these objectives the major challenges in improvement of the skill training standard are i) Teachers and their upgrading training, ii) modern equipment and iii) proper industry linkage. Bangladesh is committed to send more skilled workers in the international labour market. So it is essential to arrange recognition of the courses with the TVET authority of specific destination countries. It would be aimed at facilitating the recruitment of appropriate skilled manpower for the specific job requirement.

Kazi Abul Kalam is joint secretary to the Government of Bangladesh and Md. Nurul Islam is former director of the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET).


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