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Freelancers turn Bangladesh into a hub for ICT outsourcing

  • Published at 01:47 pm September 20th, 2017
  • Last updated at 12:34 am September 21st, 2017
Freelancers turn Bangladesh into a hub for ICT outsourcing
Abu Kahar, a 22-year-old SSC graduate from Kalai in Joypurhat, earns Tk50,000 per month. While that is rare in itself, it is even more surprising given that Kahar comes from a low-income family and twice failed the higher secondary certificate education exam. But a poor background and a lack of an HSC certificate did not prevent Kahar from earning this handsome amount. His passion for the web brought about opportunities that changed his life. “One day, I came across the training advertisement of Learning and Earning Development Projects (LEDP) and applied for it immediately,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “After receiving the training on digital marketing, I am now able to earn Tk50,000 a month.” The training course on digital marketing was being offered for free by a government eager to advance its Digital Bangladesh vision to even the most disadvantaged of the country’s youths. “Being the son of a poor farmer, I barely passed SSC with GPA 4.62 with great difficulty. In the HSC exam, I failed twice in physics,” Kahar said. Since December 2016, however, he has earned over Tk5.6 lakh and has bought his previously landless father 50 decimals of land. In recent times, he has been earning up to $1,000 a month. Like Abu Kahar, thousands of Bangladeshi tech savvy youngsters have brought a revolutionary change to the ICT outsourcing marketplace, contributing hundreds of crores of taka to the economy thanks to various initiatives undertaken by the government. According to Oxford Internet Institute (OII) of Oxford University in the UK, Bangladesh now contributes 16.8% of all outsourced online workers in the world, a rate which is second only to India on 24.6%. Of the Bangladeshi outsourcing workers, 22% work in software development and technology, representing 3.7% of all online freelancers in the world. The majority (about 40%, or 6.8% of the world total) work in sales and marketing support. About a quarter work in creative multimedia (4.2% in the global context). Similarly, about 3% work in writing and translation, 7% in clerical and data entry and 2% in professional services (representing 0.5%, 1.3% and 0.4% of all freelancers on the web).
According to the ICT Division, there are 650,000 registered freelancers and about 500,000 are working regularly, making $100 million annually | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

From self employment to creating jobs

Under the Professional Outsourcing Training programme, the government has planned to train 13,000 unemployed people in three key ICT areas: graphic design, web design and development, and digital marketing. Already, a total of 11,920 people have completed the training and of them, 5,680 people have earned Tk3.44 crore. Aside from being self-employed, many of these successful freelancers now provide jobs for others. Rezaul Islam of Lalmonirhat told the Dhaka Tribune of how his job prospects had brightened after enrolling in outsourcing training under LEDP. “I was frantically searching for a job in any sector as I am getting old and very close to the cut-off for many jobs,” he said. “Now, after training, I have a handsome monthly earning.” Rezaul said he earned $1,200 last month and was now planning to reinvest some of his new found wealth in his own community. “The sky's the limit in outsourcing. Like me, thousands of unemployed youths can get engaged in earning. My vision is to establish an IT centre in my area where 100 people will get jobs. I am working towards that goal and everything is on the right track,” he said.

Challenges

According to the ICT Division, there are 650,000 registered freelancers and about 500,000 are working regularly, making $100 million annually. One of the biggest advantages of freelancing is that one can work from home. There are logistical challenges, however: the high price of bandwidth and a lack of quality internet service is a problem for freelancers in rural areas. Although there are broadband connections in some areas, it is too slow to suit their work. Long term and high-level training is another obstacle to getting highly-paid work. Besides LEDP, the state minister for ICT Division, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, told the Dhaka Tribune that the government has taken steps to establish the Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Centre to provide higher training for freelancers and make the sector sustainable. The minister said the centre provides SSC and HSC graduates with six-month trainings and later follow ups with training to upgrade their knowledge of freelancing. “Since 70% of our population is young, the government’s vision is to make them tech savvy and engage them in IT-based work through freelancing,” he said. “Under the direction of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are working to get fibre optic connections to the union level by 2018 to ensure affordable high speed internet. The goal is to translate the vision of Digital Bangladesh into reality by 2021,” the junior minister said.

Demographic dividend

In advancing towards these goals, Bangladesh can draw on one of the largest and youngest populations in Asia. Of its 163 million people, almost 65% are under the age of 25. Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) President Mustafa Jabbar told the Dhaka Tribune that this vast human resource is the “raw material” of the industry. “There must be a long-term plan on where Bangladesh wants to take its human resource to tap the huge opportunity of demographic dividend,” he said. With employment costs are rising in countries like India, China and the Philippines, there are vast opportunities for Bangladesh in the outsourcing industry as global employers are out looking for alternatives. Jabbar thinks Bangladesh can cash in through upgraded training. “They should be trained based on the industry’s needs. If we look into the present status of the outsourcing workers, most of them only have a general education and no special training,” said Jabbar. Fahim, the owners of bdjobs.com, said educational subjects as well as degrees should be job-oriented and the human resource development should focus on the needs of the industries. “Most of the government training is entry level. It should be focused on international level so that we can go for higher paying jobs, especially in software and graphic design,” he suggested. A freelancer called Golam Faruque told the Dhaka Tribune that he was ranked second and fourth in the graphic design and illustration category on the freelancing platform Upwork in 2015 and 2016, and now earns over $1,500 per month. “My suggestion to beginners is to be equipped with international standard skills (and) get involved in outsourcing,” he said. “Employers may lose confidence in the Bangladeshi market if they find unskilled workers doing jobs.”