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The significance of training in skills
Enayet Rasul

BANGLADESHIS everywhere in the world have proved their worth as reliable and hard working people. Many of them did not find jobs at home but did considerably well by doing even odd jobs abroad and remitting their earnings home that contributed so much to the country's foreign currency reserve while helping their families. But these earnings could be so much the higher for the country and their own selves and their families with lift-up effect on the economy as a whole from their inward remittances leading to diverse investments, if they had gone abroad in the first place as fully skilled workers or professionals.
As it is, most of the Bangladeshi job seekers abroad are found to be unskilled or semi-skilled. This is the reason why Bangladesh's earnings from the manpower export trade are comparatively much less than even its neighbours such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The greater success of these countries in sending out more skilled workers abroad -- whose earnings are substantially greater than workers in the unskilled or semi-skilled categories -- is linked to governments and even the private sector there playing a far greater role in contrast to the government and the private sector in Bangladesh in imparting skill training to potential overseas workers.
The skill training needs to be not only with a view to the external job market. The training can be of great value in helping unemployed youth in large number to go for self-employment at home. The same increases the availability of a trained workforce relying on which local and foreign investors can consider setting up all kinds of enterprises. Indeed, the gamut of economic activities in the country stands a better chance of increasing as its number of skilled workers start increasing.
But skill training is a neglected area in the Bangladesh context with its government contributing not enough towards this end in contrast to what great gains can come to the economy if skill training is taken up actively as a major public policy not in words but in deeds. One may say that the government's small size and reduced role are desired everywhere. In the era of market economy and free enterprise, the government's role can be argued to have shrunk, conceptually. Nonetheless, there are areas where the government is duly expected to play a bigger role or predominant role to hasten productivity and economic growth. This is the area of skill development to create a wide range of skills in the country's workforce to enhance employment prospects, either institutional or self employment, or to improve production capacities. Both in turn can work as powerful catalysts for economic growth.
Ample spending by the government for skill development is all the more necessary because the private sector may prefer not to invest in this area out of a consideration of low profits. The high cost of skill training under the private sector is also likely to exclude most seekers of such training on the ground of their inability to pay for the training. Thus, the role of the government as a skill trainer assumes great importance in a country like Bangladesh that appears to have scored some modest gains during the last two decades. But its rate of progress seems well below what is desired or necessary that creates the imperative for greater skill training of the workforce under governmental auspices.
Presently, opportunities for skill training or vocational training provided by the government are limited to the country's small number of polytechnics and some programmes under the ministry of youth. But these are very inadequate compared to the requirements, calling for much expansion of such training facilities and programmes. The expansion of skill training activities may be looked upon as gainful activities by the government if these are conducted with some vision.
For instance, the government may conduct market survey of the sort of skills that have growing domestic demand and in the international labour market. Accordingly, it can set up its training establishments and programmes and no this doubt will call for some investments on the part of the government. But the investment will promote economic growth and higher productivity. Besides, the government can also recover the invested sums of money in the long run by providing training free of costs or at nominal fees but obliging the recipients of the training to pay back the full amounts of their training fees in instalments from their monthly wages or salaries on finding employment or setting up their own enterprises.
Such a model of skill training will serve several objectives. First of all, young persons in far bigger number will be able to train easily as they will not be frustrated by the relatively higher costs of private training. The skilled ones coming out of public training institutions will form a bigger pool of the trained workforce to undertake various economic activities. The number of the employed -- institutionally employed as well as the self employed -- will rise notably. Training will also likely improve productivity per worker. The economy in a variety of ways may benefit from the availability of a well trained workforce and the government would be investing in a highly prospective field and also getting returns from its investments.