The reason many people do not like a market economy lies in the acid test of harsh competition. To them, the market economy is a story of losing jobs by being made redundant in the workplace. Liberalisation has swept through the world and so has technology. The bell rings every morning: do not miss the train. Many of us work hard to remain at the cutting edge of competition and then abruptly get catapulted out of jobs. No matter for how many years we have been doing these jobs, our experience or expertise may be obsolete any day without sufficient warning. In the backdrop of globalisation, manpower preparedness is a new area of research that warrants urgent attention to survive in a competitive world of technology and connectivity.
Modernisation is sweet but its path is cruel. A typist will collect his last paycheck in his middle age if he has not learnt how to use a computer. No one can protect this typist unless he shields himself by updating his skills every year through investing in education and training. The free market economy tolled the death knell for millions of workers who either remained myopic to what was happening around them or could not recharge the battery to empower themselves. Their farewell parties, being premature, ended in tears. Resorting to trade unions did not work either, because people have little sympathy for luddites who oppose the advent of modern techniques for their short-term interest or incapacity.
The making of the workforce in a market economy requires continuous training. Ours is a nation that believes little in training, which is often perceived as unnecessary as it is expensive. Our excessive attention on the rapid increment of literacy rate has overshadowed the urgency of skill-based training and quality education. The consequences are mercilessly reflected on the Knowledge Economy Index of Asia, where we are floundering in the lowest layer. Our position in the Knowledge Index is a threat to our future growth potential. According to the theory of endogenous growth, investment in skill, technology and knowledge, can reinvigorate a country's growth path which has slowed down recently. If we do not develop our workforce with adequate training and education in science and technology, the whole nation will sink into mediocrity.
Liberalisation has brought renaissance to the life of the economy. Bangladesh could never dream of 120 million mobile sets being sold in a country of 160 million people, had there been a government monopoly in the telecom sector. We have not forgotten the bitter and painful days when we had to resort to the grace of the T&T officials or even the 'powerful' linemen for an urgent telephone connection. A poor or middle-class household could not even dream of a telephone line. Massive privatisation of phone companies have not only alleviated the sufferings of ordinary people, but also infused a new life to the economy by creating millions of jobs in the telecommunications industry. Privatisation bumped up electricity production; electricity has reached 80 percent of the population of the country. The market economy made these achievements possible.
The government now scoops huge revenue from these private enterprises, which were chronically losing concerns under government ownership. These state enterprises drained enormous national wealth, owing to inefficient management and corrupt practices. Phones, nowadays, are not only devices of communication, but also the engines of fast financial transactions and business management. Internet connections to smartphones are changing the definition of how we need to manage our life, communication, and even entertainment.
Many people now complete a quarter of their office work when they are stuck in terrible traffic. Farmers now know how to use the information to search for any agriculture related queries. The workforce must update itself to the changing pattern of life and the increased demand for technology. The lesson stands: be up to the mark or perish. The phrase 'survival of the fittest' could not be more relevant in regard to manpower development in order to harvest the benefits of globalisation.
Integrated national planning is needed to confront the challenges of the free market economy. Education must be revamped to address the growing demand for scientific and economic knowledge. Learning English will qualify us to attract global call center businesses. Universities should be advised to build their curricula to meet global standards and the long term target of the economy. Professional disparity in the recruitment process, that creates huge brain drain within our borders, must come to an end. The media can play a great role in this regard. Thus reshaping the national workforce to cater to the necessities of liberalisation and technological progress is imperative to empower the country with a higher 8 percent growth potential. The workforce will lose its force and manpower will lose its power without rapid modernisation of education in the competitive climate of the market economy.
The writer is chief economist of Bangladesh Bank.