According to the World Bank, Bangladesh has a total population of 158 million and a labour force of 59.5 million, with a projected labour force growth rate of 2.2 percent by 2030. Approximately 2 million young people join the workforce every year. Among them, 0.6 million are from mainstream education, and 1.1 million are trained by government or private skills development agencies. The remainder are classified as not in education, employment or training. A total of 11.6 million young people falls into this category. There is a significant gap between the demand for skilled workers in local industries and the supply from education and training centres. One plausible reason for this is the communication and coordination gap between employers and skill development agencies in Bangladesh.
Towards a Solution
Apprenticeship is any system by which the employer undertakes, by contract, to employ and train a young person (between the ages of 17 and 30 years) for a period specified in advance and during which the apprentice is bound to work in the employer’s service. Employers provide apprentices with real, on-the-job skills. This is the main learning environment in which manual skills, behaviours, attitudes and work processes and procedures are formed under real working conditions. On the other hand, training institutions equip apprentices with more theoretical training. In this learning environment, apprentices acquire competencies that are most effectively taught outside the workplace.
The apprenticeship programme can be a practical solution to address the gap between the demand for skilled workers in local industries and international job markets and the supply ensured by education and training centres. This initiative involves employers, skill development agencies and young people to ensure that demand-driven skills are being developed.
The apprenticeship programme benefits apprentices, hiring organizations and the economy. For apprentices, apprenticeships can provide access to full-time employment for semi-skilled and unskilled youth. Certificates of completion help apprentices to promote their skills and capabilities to potential employers. Apprenticeships also count as credible experience for jobseekers, which can be used to improve their earning potential. Furthermore, business entities operating apprenticeship programmes have sufficient time to mould apprentices to the company’s culture and work structure. Under the Labour Law of 2013, apprenticeship-related expenses are tax-free, and training equipment can be imported duty-free. Benefits for the economy include a significant reduction in the unemployment rate, an increase in overall industrial productivity, continued economic growth and a more skilled labour force.
As the innovation intermediary of the Government, the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme is working with a whole-of-society approach, applying behaviour change methodologies and leveraging the rapid expansion of technologies to create an enabling environment for the development of demand-driven skills in Bangladesh.
In industrialized countries, at least five percent of the new labour force has an apprenticeship opportunity, which is crucial to creating skilled workers. Bangladesh plans to reach this percentage by 2023. In 2017, 1.39 percent of the labour force participated in the apprenticeship programme. That number increased to 2 percent in 2018, and 2.35 percent in 2019.
In terms of the informal job sector, 60 percent of the enrolled apprentices are female, and the apprenticeship programme has a successful job placement rate of over 85 percent, which demonstrates that this is an innovative approach to developing skills. This initiative is demand-driven, as industries are transforming rapidly to keep pace with technology. a2i has also developed the Apprenticeship Management System to manage, monitor and mentor apprenticeship programmes across the country. The hub serves all the needs of the programme’s stakeholders, both young people and businesses.
This approach consists of registration, monitoring, assessment and certification, which ensures that the apprenticeship programme is conducted smoothly, and workers are actually receiving benefits. The programme coordinates employers and skill development agencies, which ensures its sustainability. It could easily be replicated in other countries that have a gap in supply and demand in the labour market.
To expand the apprenticeship programme in the global South, a2i has undertaken significant South-South cooperation activities. It signed a memorandum of understanding with the Global Apprenticeship Network in Switzerland in 2017 to connect with apprenticeship networks in other countries and share knowledge and experience. In addition, a2i serves as the Secretariat for the Asian Alliance for Apprenticeship network and promotes the exchange of knowledge, experience and best practices among its 11 member countries. The Government of Somalia and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of the Philippines have expressed interest in the apprenticeship solutions of a2i and a willingness to replicate the programme.