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Dhaka Tribune

It’s a skill issue

How bridging the skills gap in the ICT sector can lead to success

Update : 22 May 2024, 02:44 PM

The ICT sector in Bangladesh has shown remarkable growth over the past decade, spurred by government initiatives like the Digital Bangladesh vision by 2021 and significant private sector investment. However, despite these advancements, the industry faces a pronounced skills gap that hinders its potential to become a leading global IT outsourcing destination in South Asia. Addressing the skills gap in the ICT industry in Bangladesh has a proper understanding of the sector's current capabilities versus the evolving demands of the global digital economy. 

A mismatch

According to a study by the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), the country's leading trade body for the IT sector, there is a significant mismatch between the skills possessed by graduates and those required by the industry. The BASIS report suggests that while there are approximately 10,000 IT graduates entering the market each year, only a fraction possess the advanced programming, problem-solving, and other soft skills demanded by employers. 

Moreover, the World Bank in its analysis has pointed out that the ICT sector in Bangladesh could face a shortfall of up to 2 million skilled workers by 2025 if current trends continue. This gap is particularly pronounced in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), where the global demand for talent far outstrips the supply. Beyond the quantitative mismatch, there are qualitative aspects of the skills gap as well. Employers frequently cite a lack of critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to work in teams as significant gaps in the current talent pool.

Additionally, there's a noted lack in English language proficiency, which is critical for engaging with international clients and staying abreast of global developments in technology. To fill up the ICT skills gap, public and private institutions often hire skilled employees from other countries such as India, China, South Korea, the US, UK etc. Thus, we lose millions of foreign currencies in ICT sectors. 

There is a significant mismatch between the skills possessed by graduates and those required by the industry

A sector emerges

The ICT sector has emerged as a cornerstone of Bangladesh's economic transformation, contributing significantly to the country's GDP, employment, and innovation ecosystem. This growth is underpinned by a combination of government initiatives, private sector dynamism, and a young, tech-savvy workforce, positioning Bangladesh as an attractive destination for IT outsourcing and software development.

According to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Bangladesh Bank, the ICT sector's contribution to the country's GDP has seen a steady increase over the past decade. As of the latest reports, the sector contributes approximately 2% to Bangladesh's GDP, a figure that has been growing at an average annual rate of over 40% since 2010. This growth rate significantly outpaces that of the overall economy, highlighting the sector's role as a key driver of economic development. 

The government has set ambitious targets for the ICT sector, aiming to boost its contribution to over $5 billion in export earnings by 2025, up from around $1bn currently. Usually, the IT sector covers a range of services including IT-enabled services, e-commerce, etc with key markets being North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region. Besides, the startup ecosystem in Bangladesh, fuelled by ICT innovations, has attracted significant attention from local and international investors.

Our vibrant startup scene is not only contributing to GDP and employment but is also driving technological innovation and digital literacy across the country. In addition to this, the ICT sector is a major source of employment in Bangladesh, directly and indirectly supporting over 1 million jobs, according to the ICT Division of Bangladesh. The sector has been particularly effective in providing high-value employment opportunities for the country's youth, with over 65% of ICT workers being under the age of 35.

Get smart

This sector is central to the Awami League government's vision of creating a “Smart Bangladesh” by 2041.  Bangladesh, with one of the largest youth populations in the world, stands at a pivotal moment in its development trajectory, particularly in the ICT sector. The burgeoning youth demographic represents not just a challenge but a significant opportunity to fuel the country's ICT industry's growth. Utilizing this demographic dividend effectively can turn Bangladesh into becoming a leading global player in the ICT domain.

By fostering a robust ecosystem for IT and IT-enabled services, Bangladesh aims to not only enhance its GDP and export revenues but also to generate employment opportunities for its young population. The government has already taken initiatives to comprehend the demand and supply types within the ICT sector. To address ICT skills gap challenges, various stakeholders in Bangladesh's ICT sector have launched initiatives aimed at upskilling the existing workforce and better preparing students for the demands of the industry.

UNSPLASH

The emphasis on ICT in education, including the introduction of digital literacy from early school years, is aimed at preparing a future workforce that is skilled and ready to meet the demands of a digitized global economy. The new curriculum in Bangladesh is designed to enhance ICT education through several key initiatives. First, it emphasizes establishing e-learning or online education systems, adopting modern educational management strategies, and ensuring equal opportunity in education, and emphasising on the practical use of ICT knowledge. Additionally, collaborations between the government, industry bodies like BASIS, and educational institutions are focusing on curriculum reform to include more practical, industry-relevant skills.

At present, Bangladesh has about 28 Hi-Tech Parks, Software Technology Parks, and IT Training and Incubation Centres distributed across the country. Some of these facilities are operational, and several other projects are currently under construction, indicating ongoing efforts to expand the infrastructure for technology-based businesses.

The skills gap in Bangladesh's ICT industry poses both challenges and opportunities

What are the challenges?

Despite these efforts, significant challenges remain. Ensuring equitable access to upskilling opportunities across different regions and demographics within Bangladesh is critical to fully leveraging the potential of its human capital in the ICT sector. To further enhance ICT skills among the youth and ensure sustainable improvement in the IT industry, the administration of Bangladesh can undertake several additional initiatives:

  • Facilitating more institutes focused on advanced ICT training can help bridge the current skills gap in the sector. These institutes could offer specialized courses in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, coding, cloud computing, data science, blockchain, and digital marketing. Making the best use of the existing Hi-tech parks to facilitate the training of the youths
  • More engagements with global IT firms and educational institutions to facilitate knowledge exchange and provide exposure to best practices in ICT education and training
  • Incorporating ICT skills into the national curriculum at all levels of education should be expanded. This integration should emphasize practical skills, including coding, digital literacy, and cybersecurity, tailored to evolving industry needs. Following the model suggested for Bangladesh based on TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge), integrating ICT into teacher training programs could ensure that future generations are more adept in using technology effectively in their learning and daily lives
  • Focusing on STEM education in Secondary and Higher Secondary Education
  • Encouraging more partnerships between educational institutions and the ICT industry can ensure that the skills taught are aligned with market demands. Internships, mentorship programs, and industry-led workshops can provide hands-on experience and insight into real-world ICT challenges
  • The government and private sector can jointly create incubators, accelerators, and venture funding opportunities tailored to young entrepreneurs in the ICT sector. Such support mechanisms can help transform innovative ideas into successful businesses
  • Implementing programs that specifically target youth in rural and underserved areas can ensure a more inclusive ICT talent pool. Mobile ICT training units, community ICT centres, and online learning platforms can make ICT education accessible to all
  • Encouraging more women to enter the ICT field through targeted scholarships, training programs, and awareness campaigns can help address the gender gap in the sector
  • Developing policies that create a favourable environment for young ICT professionals and entrepreneurs, such as tax incentives, easy access to finance, and protection of intellectual property, can significantly boost the sector
  • Following the model of Indian IT education, more IT dedicated universities should be established
  • More support and funding for Research and Development (R&D) in the ICT sector can foster innovation and development of local technologies, encouraging the youth to engage in research-oriented careers
  • Through scholarships, internships, and job placement programs targeted at ICT students and graduates, the government can incentivize careers in the IT sector, particularly in high-demand areas
  • Regular assessments of the ICT sector to identify current and future skills gaps can help in tailoring education and training programs, accordingly, ensuring that the workforce is well-prepared to meet industry demands

 

The skills gap in Bangladesh's ICT industry poses both challenges and opportunities. By effectively addressing this gap, Bangladesh can enhance its competitiveness on the global stage, attract more foreign investment, and move up the value chain from being primarily an outsourcing destination to a hub for innovation and high-value IT services. Ongoing efforts by various stakeholders offer hope, but sustained commitment and innovative strategies will be key to achieving these goals to implement the "SMART Bangladesh" vision.


Dr Md Sazzad Hossain, PhD is a distinguished senior professor, researcher, academic teaching advisor with extensive experience in the ICT sector. Currently he is working as a full-time member of University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (UGC). He is also a director of Bangladesh Satellite Company Ltd (BSCL). He is the founding president of Education, Research and Development Forum Bangladesh (ERDFB) and Vice President of Amrai Digital Bangladesh.

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