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Information and adaptability are key to tackling skill mismatch

  • Published at 06:22 pm January 20th, 2019
ST - Jan 16, 2019
Photo: Bigstock

The status of joblessness after investing so much effort and time at school, college and university is a huge blow to the resolve of new graduates. Every year, a huge number of people join the ‘Graduate Army’ of Bangladesh and come to terms with the brutal reality of the job market. According to the labour force survey, 11.2 percent of the graduates with education of up to tertiary level were unemployed during the fiscal year 2016-17. While graduates face unemployment, businesses cannot find suitable candidates. Although the skill mismatch can mostly be attributed to poor quality of education, lack of job creation and poor linkage between the industries and academia, such discussions often ignore the importance of information and adaptability on part of both students and educators.

Availability of information for both buyers and sellers is a crucial determinant of how perfect or imperfect a market will be. The job market is no different. In a perfect world, the demand for degrees and skills is supposed to be derived from the labour market. Before enrolling into any university program, a student should know whether the skills acquired in the program will be in high demand when he/she will enter into the job market. The nature of the job market is always changing, and the degrees which were in demand ten years ago may be in oversupply today. However, we know very little about how many graduates of different disciplines are entering the job market every year, and who among them are finding it easy or difficult to start their first job. Hence, there exists little scope for informed decision making. Besides, our society teaches the students that only certain professions are associated with financial security and social status, and the rest are not so rewarding. For instance, the ready-made garment industry, despite being the lead contributor of foreign currency in Bangladesh, is unable to meet its skill demand particularly for managerial positions from the domestic labour market. Md Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, once said that unemployment among the educated people would remain high if we maintain the traditional view of having BBA and MBA degrees. This traditional view often creates prejudice among the graduates against joining certain industries. A study by National Skills Development Council Secretariat on furniture industry reveals that even though students of the top public universities have the required skills, most furniture factories fail to attract them. Lack of information coupled with such a traditional view of career and profession greatly contributes to the skill scarcity in some jobs and oversupply in some other jobs.

To make matters worse, we have little data about how well the institutions offering these degrees are doing in terms of disseminating job worthy skills. There exists a general understanding about which universities are the best, but a student not lucky enough to be in any of those top schools will find it difficult to make the right decision. Lack of a proper rating system and little or no information on vital indicators make the decision making subjective in nature. A student hoping to join a certain program at a certain university does not have any data on important indicators such as the median salary of the graduates of the program, or the time lag between graduation and employment. Having such vital information will not only help students make informed decisions, but also create a healthily competition among educational institutions.

The problem is aggravated by the rigidity among the education providers. Whether we talk about public universities or private universities, they are failing to take cues from the industry about what degrees and skills are really in demand. Although the need for the linkages between universities and industries is well understood, we do not observe a strong mechanism through which the broad recommendations from the industries are translated into specific material changes in university curriculum. Moreover, education providers must take cues not only from the domestic economy, but also from the international economy. National labour markets are rapidly converging into a single global labour market, from which firms can source talents. Capitalizing on the recent explosion of data and the huge demand for data scientists in Singapore, a large number of skilled Indians are migrating to Singapore. According to Linkedin data, India is the top source of talents for data scientists and cyber security specialists in Singapore. 

Educational institutions of our country should be aware about what is happening out there to prepare our students for the global competition. While we are lagging behind to equip them with the right skills for the domestic economy, the global economy is going through a rapid transformation. A study by Dell Technologies says that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 are yet to be invented. Learning new skills will be so important that the capacity to acquire new knowledge will become more valuable than the knowledge itself. Therefore, the current system that a student spends years studying at a formal educational institution, and then spends the rest of his/her life with whatever skills attained in that period will soon be obsolete. Workforces of the 21st century need to be resilient, believe in lifelong learning, and be ready to explore opportunities across industries, and dissemination of this awareness among all stakeholders is vital for sustainable development. 

The writer is a management consultant at Inspira Advisory & Consulting Ltd.