Foreign Workers in Bangladesh | 2018-04-26 |

Foreign Workers in Bangladesh

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman

    26 April, 2018 12:00 AM printer

Foreign Workers in Bangladesh

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman

Pew Research Institute, a non-partisan fact tank has published a startling report on the reverse flow of fund from Bangladesh to several countries. The countries are China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, United States, Thailand, Japan, Norway, United Kingdom and Sri Lanka.

The content analysis reveals many interesting findings that policy planner in Bangladesh may consider in future policy perspectives. Over eighty five thousand foreign people work in different capacities in Bangladesh and remit over $2 billion. Workers from India and China constitute over 60 per cent of the workers. This figure may be higher when you count the foreign nationals without valid work permit and remit foreign currency through dubious ways. The authority entrusted to offer work permit in Bangladesh is Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA). There is a huge gap between the actual number of expatriate workers and the expatriate workers who collected work permit from BIDA. The BIDA data revealed that the number of expatriate workers those who asked for new work permits and also requested for renewal in 2017 was about seven thousand five hundred. Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority quote the number of foreign workers about two thousands and five hundred. The expatriate workers mainly work in the readymade garments sector and the salary is about three folds that the local counterparts.

It is fair to conclude that there is serious dearth of skilled worker which represents a serious imbalance in the demand and supply of skilled manpower in several sectors in Bangladesh. The number of applicants in general education far exceeds the number of applicants in technical field. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in a study observed that the educated unemployment youth constitute 47 per cent in Bangladesh. Disguised unemployment, a concept where workers are engaged in low profile job despite higher academic background, should not be considered as regular employment because the marginal productivity of labour is zero and the employment is redundant.  It is obvious that there is a serious miss-match between the market demand for and supply of skilled technical worker and an obvious glut in job seekers in the general education. Most of the foreigners are working in production management, human resources management, quality control and even in mid-level management. There are many graduates seeking for job in merchandising but lack in skills in effective communication. The English proficiency is a herculean challenge for many job seekers in Bangladesh. Moreover, even many students with excellent academic grade in technical education lacks experience in running simple machine or lack hands on experience in doing technical job. Unfortunately, the academic excellence is calibrated by the students on better grade that have little relevance in real world job environment.

There are many OECD countries where the educational planning is tuned to the requirement of job market, a meaningful balance between the supply and demand of skilled manpower to maintain sustain growth level. These also ensure equity in income distribution and an enhance standard of living. Finland is a classic example where manpower planning ensures a smooth supply of skilled manpower in various sectors of the economy. The current enrolment in Finland’s upper secondary vocational schools is over 42 per cent. The students are enrolled for three years to earn a vocational degree. The course consists of coursework and on-the job learning that prepares the students for a specific trade; because general course work is only 25 per cent. About 75 per cent of the course work is vocational.  Students acquire basic skills in their field and are often gained specialised competencies in one area of the field. Students have the option to attend polytechnic college or even can earn a Master’s degree. The Finnish National Board of Education responsible for developing VET design long term plan on manpower requirement in industry’s requirement and regularly monitor for modification for about fifty vocational qualifications. The fields are Technology and Transport, Business and Administration; Health and Social Services and Tourism and Catering. 

Another country is Germany where you see dual-track vocational training programme known as VET.  Most of Germany's highly-skilled workforce has gone through the dual system of vocational education and training (VET). The two components endowed the workers with enough on-the job work experience in a factory and theoretical knowledge in a vocational school. The apprentices spend 60 per cent of their time in their work place and 40 per cent in the classroom. Over one third of students graduating from secondary schools enter a vocational training program; one third of which complete a single-track school based VET and the rest pursue dual-track program. It is important to note that over 50 per cent of the Germany’s workers are skilled, trained in VET.

We experience an altogether different scenario in Bangladesh. Graduates who spend several years in general education enter catering or tourism without any technical orientation. This represents dead weight loss in two ways: the three or four year’s education is devoid of any value unless he masters some soft skills in these academic years. On the other hand, he could learn the technical content of tourism or catering in less time. There are now many fledging industries in Bangladesh. The most important ones are - real estate development, tourism, merchandising, insurance where the salary structure commensurate with many blue colour jobs and future job requirement are enormous. When we compare the job requirement in near future against the current supply of required manpower in general education; Bangladesh labour market bids only a calamitous picture, if the policy planner fails to address the problem straightway. The example of Germany and Finland can provide salutary lesson for Bangladesh. 


The Writer is a Professor of Economics, United International University.