Economics Study Center, along with EMK Center organized the first episode of People’s Debate on June 23, 2019 at EMK Center. The debate was moderated by Galib Ibn Anwarul Azim, Project Officer, UN Capital Development Fund. The panelists were Professor Dr. M. Abu Eusuf, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, Asif Uddin Ahmed, Acting Director, The EMK Center, Arif Shahriar, Chief People and Business Performance Officer, Rahimafrooz(Bangladesh) Ltd and Zafir Shafee Chowdhury, Co-founder and Chairman, Singularity Limited. The topic that was discussed on the first episode was – “The Unemployment Epidemic of The University Graduates”.
The event started with a welcoming speech from the President of Economics Study Center, Tahmid Hasan. In his welcoming speech, he gave a brief introduction about ESC and the works the organization does and the core motivation behind organizing the People’s Debate. He expressed his gratitude towards the audience the organizing team and gave away the floor to the moderator of the debate, Mr. Galib Ibn Anwarul Azim. Mr. Azim then introduced the esteemed panelists to the audience.
Mr. Azim then opened the discussion with some data and facts. According to ILO, there are at least 1040000 unemployed graduates in the country right now. 47% of the graduates are currently unemployed. In the 44th Civil Service Preliminary exam, the number of applicants was 412,000, which exceeds the population of Brunei. He then posed some questions regarding the skill gaps and demographic dividend and whether the phenomenon can be considered as an epidemic.
Mr. Arif Shahriar said that he would rather refer to this as a problem. He shed some light on the gap between the corporate demand and institutional supplies of employers or graduates. “Our education is not very contemporary”, he said. He encouraged discussions and job fairs as they are relevant for the applicants to meet the gaps. According to him, the thing that saddens him the most is people across the border prevailing over the mid-level and higher posts. “All we complain about is promotions, while we do not work on developing our skills. We get a job, we go into hibernation.” He also complained about brain-drain and the competency of the Civil Service Preliminary examination process. “Our assessment and recruiting processes are not contemporary as well. We like the possibility of generating revenue, the tendency that came from 200 years of colonization”, he said. While answering a question from the moderator, he said that our approach towards learning and responsibility is somewhat negative, which hinders the way towards new learning opportunities that an organization can provide. He emphasized on updating the curriculum, while answering some questions in the Q/A session.
Mr. Azim then gave the floor to Professor Dr. Eusuf. He posed the question to Dr. Eusuf whether we should provide this many numbers of graduates considering the labour market of the country. He gave some insights on the statistics on the unemployment situation. He posed the question whether the economic growth of the country is inclusive. The point he focused was the sluggish investments and the necessities of the increasing number of the universities in the country. He shed some light on the gap between the education system and the skill required for the market. “There is a difference between theory and practice. Your productivity and capabilities will make you stand out in the private sector. We need to focus on developing these”, he said. He mentioned that the budget documents say that over the next few years there will be 30,000,000 new job opportunities created, and posed the question whether it is feasible to implement the proposal without a proper road map. “If we want to make entrepreneurs out of the graduates, there has to be a tracking system. Two week training programs are not sustainable under these circumstances”, he said. He gave examples on other Asian countries and emphasized on technical education to meet the gap between the demand and supply in the market. He focused on the necessity of increased attention to the demographic dividend of the country.
This was followed by an audience poll- whether the investment in creating more graduates are necessary. He then gave away the floor to the audience to hear both sides of the argument, which turned out to be an interactive session. He then emphasized the need on investing more on the capacity enhancement of the university students. He then moved to Mr. Asif Uddin Ahmed. He posed the question to Mr. Ahmed about the jobs that will be lost due to the fourth industrial revolution in the coming years. Mr. Ahmed emphasized on developing the analytical and soft skills to survive the transition period. “There is a horrific lack of both soft and technical skill sets in our graduates”, he said and provided case studies to support his statement.
Mr. Azim then moved to Mr. Chowdhury and asked him what skills he sees missing in the graduates who apply in his organization. Mr. Chowdhury then shared the story of founding his company and its works, Singularity Limited. He said that the domains that his company covers require very niche skills, but they can match only 10 percent of the requirements with entry level applicants. “Our universities focus mostly on theories rather than applications. We have to spend a lot of resources to train our employees to deal with applications in the tech sector”, he said. According to him, the reason behind the skill gap in the country is that most university students aim for government jobs and spend very little time for skill development. He said, “The small start-ups have to provide training for the employees because the big corporations will not. We only think about the short-term impact, rather than the long-term one.” He emphasized on the necessity of providing internship opportunities for university students. He also raised concerns about our country and said that we are absolutely not ready for the fourth industrial revolution. “We need to create more leaders to take us through the challenge to succeed in this process”, he said. The session concluded with an interactive Q/A session from the moderator and the audiences.