Corporate social responsibility towards skills development in Bangladesh
People, for decades, were under the impression that conventional education will secure a stable job for an individual. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, there is a positive relationship between education and unemployment -- meaning the risk of unemployment is higher among those who have attained higher levels of education.
Bangladesh has not yet been able to gain from the “demographic dividend” -- a scenario where the dependency ratio falls as the share of working-age population increases. According to Labour Force Survey (LFS) of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) 2016-2017, the national unemployment rate is 4.2%, whereas the youth unemployment is as high as 10.6%.
The share of unemployed youth in total employment is 79.6%. The unemployment rate is highest among youth who have secondary level education (28%), which regrettably indicates that education is not enabling the youth with the appropriate set of skills to be integrated in the workforce.
Youth are finding it complicated to settle in when they attempt to make school-to-work adjustments. An improved education system not only requires developing analytical competence, critical thinking capacity, and effective communication among individuals, it also requires providing opportunities for technical and vocational training.
Vocational training programs directed at rapidly growing sectors have the potential to minimize skill gaps as well as improve income and employment possibilities. Such programs have often been unsuccessful, because they are not driven by the industry demand and market linkages.
Bangladesh will be in dire need of skilled labour with the numerous upcoming mega projects across the nation. Initiatives like Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP), nationwide government institutes such as polytechnic institutes, technical training centres (TTCs), technical school and colleges (TSCs), and the private technical training centres are contributing significantly in developing a skilled workforce.
However with our growing population, the capacity and outreach of these initiatives desperately need to be expanded. It is not only the government’s responsibility to create opportunities, the private sector is also accountable for the country’s development.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important component of any reputable company. The CSR funds can be utilized for the country’s development in innovative and sustainable ways. Such an innovative approach has been taken by Chevron, under their Bangladesh Partnership Initiative (BPI), through funding a three-year skills development project called Uttoron -- skills for better life.
The project is implemented by Swiss contact and operates in three north-eastern districts of Bangladesh (Sylhet, Habiganj, and Moulavibazar) and aims to train 1,400 youth and place them in gainful employment. With the support of the Uttoron project, community youths receive trainings on various industry-demanded trades in sectors such as construction, light engineering, and RMG.
For the training component, the project collaborates with SEIP and has partnered with local training service providers. After completing the training course, the eligible graduates are integrated into the work force through suitable job placements at various industrial and commercial zones.
Uttoron’s initiatives address the skills development issues and facilitates recruitment by bridging the gap between employers and employees. Its distinctive multi-layered trainee selection process, fit-for-purpose trade selection, and industry involvement along with extensive stakeholder engagement make the project unique.
About 19% of the trained graduates are female. Sylhet division is known particularly for its religious and conservative standpoint, so being able to recruit girls and women through public campaign awareness was a breakthrough. Empowering women through training and employment in a male-dominated industry has certainly been a stepping stone.
Such practices will help lessen the gender differences in the labour market. The success stories of the trainee-turned-employee, and how the initiative helped the jobless individuals rise above poverty, are truly heartwarming.
The innovative utilization of Chevron’s CSR fund is exclusive, but it is also meant to inspire and be adapted by other companies and industries for socio-economic welfare and development.
Such practices will support Bangladesh to achieve its goal of becoming a poverty-free middle-income country and to make a more inclusive and equitable society.
Tanishaa Arman Akangkha is an aspiring economist who works for an INGO.