By: Abdus Sabur, Youth Development Practitioner and Independent Researcher (Bangladesh)
Md. Masud Parvez, Youth Development Activist and SDG Facilitator (Bangladesh)
“The future of a nation depends upon the youth of the country” – Implying upon the quote, nations worldwide celebrate International Youth Day every year. The day celebrates the potential of youth internationally on August 12 as partners in today’s global society as well as honors the traits of young people and acknowledges the challenges that today’s fledging youth face. This year the theme for this day is “Intergenerational Solidarity – Creating a World for all ages”.
However, in Bangladesh’s context when it comes to addressing its young people, their challenges, and opportunities to align with intergenerational solidarity naturally, there comes a discussion gravitating to the demographic dividends of Bangladesh and the 21st century required skills of youth at the table.
To begin with, it is important to know about the new term “Demographic Dividend” that everyone speaks of nowadays. We know Bangladesh is home to one of the largest and fastest-growing youth populations. According to the United Nations, currently, Bangladesh has nearly 30 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 35. It is estimated that this huge youth bulge will funnel an extent of young people into the workforce over the course of 2040. When there is such a large percentage of young people in any nation, they are expected to contribute largely to the country's economy. This opportunity is known as the "demographic dividend" which refers to "the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population's age structure. However, here comes a fundamental question under this context: Would Bangladesh be able to extract the sheer benefit of this demographic dividend? It is evident that if we want to enjoy the benefits of this huge dividend, we are required to build the young community as per the requirements of the 21st century to accommodate them with many opportunities creating wider scopes to contribute through innovation and build a skilled youth group. Now there comes another question: whether Bangladesh is taking enough initiatives to utilize this huge bulk of human resources?
First, let us dig into the later part, a few statistics can be taken under concentration. Recently UNICEF published a report titled “Recovering Learning: Are children and youth on track in skills development?” in which data says, nearly three-quarters of young people – aged 15 to 24 – in 92 countries with available data are off-track to acquiring the skills needed for employment. In light of the condition of the current global index, Bangladesh ranked third from the bottom among South Asian nations on the Global Youth Development Index reflecting the country's weak performance in securing equality and economic inclusion as well as employment opportunities for young people.
Given the current situation, it is estimated that every year, close to two million young adults enter the workforce, but two-thirds of them remain underemployed or unemployed in our country. The key component behind this huge portion is the lack of required skills among young people resulting in unrest situations, frustration, loss of social harmony, and missing out from innovation consequently a limitation to the economic development of the country.
In a fast-paced and rapidly changing country like Bangladesh, with continuing urbanization and increasing population density, soft skills are more relevant than ever now, enabling youth to adapt, and respect diversity. Addressing this huge gap and initiating necessary decisions are key factors to align with the theme to build unified solidarity. Currently, employers are keen to focus on the development of soft skills, such as leadership and communication skills, for labor market success, as they grasp personal management, communication, tolerance, respect, and self-accountability. To know the possible reasons why young people are not being able to enter the workforce with the required skills, we reflected upon the National Youth Survey 2018 conducted by BRAC. The report says when youth were asked how they can be agents of change in terms of improving the education, employment situation, and constraints to the country’s development, 60 percent (mostly rural) of young people did not know how to get involved in skill building activities or any such learning. Additionally, the report assembled that unemployment is a major day-to-day concern, which limits the overall economic progression. For a fact, it is understandable that a large portion of disengaged and unskilled youth will present serious political, social, security, and economic challenges in the future. Thus, this is a call for our policymakers, business entities, education concerns, and youth themselves.
To this wake-up call, the government of Bangladesh has been taking bigger initiatives to transform youth skills for the future. It is implementing skill-building projects to empower this huge group of human resources with both national and international organizations like the World Bank, International Labor Organization, USAID, Asian Development Bank, and many others. These are creating a wider scope of learning ICT Skills, Entrepreneurship Development, Communication, Practical Learning, Vocational, and Technical Skills, etc. through projects like SEIP, RISE, Skills 21, EIS, and a bunch more. Many initiatives are taken to learn ICT skills while they can transform them to develop their entrepreneurship through the government-led iDEA project to recognize and empower young people with 21st-century skills. They are also given awards for their initiatives on social development alongside provided mentorship through several capacity-building activities.
As Bangladesh wants to achieve the goal of becoming a developed country by 2041, it is high time these youths were turned into a skilled workforce. To address the first demographic dividend the country is now experiencing, the education policy should emphasize improving the quality to have a better practical knowledge about the demand of the national and international job markets aiming for the fourth industrial revolution.
Additionally, there should be a match between skills taught and skills in demand. The government must prepare a separate policy and plan for the development of the young generation, for an overall economic progression. If the required gaps are not addressed and decisions are not implemented properly, Bangladesh will not be able to achieve the desired national, progress as well as contribute to global solidarity to build a better world for future generations.