The global economic outlook of Bangladesh looks positive due to its high GDP growth rate, political stability, and geopolitical support. Yet even after having a booming economy, millions of youth are struggling with unemployment. According to the World Bank's 2017 statistics, unemployment rate in our neighbouring countries such as India and China were 3.5 percent and 4.05 percent, respectively, whereas in Bangladesh, it was 11.4 percent. This alarming percentage deserves immediate attention from the government and private sector. It is time we dig deep into this perennial problem and look for solutions to the challenges responsible for creating a jobless generation.
Before opting for solutions, one must understand that the issue is not simply that of creating jobs for young people, but to mobilise their skills in support of sustainable solutions. According to global youth chapter of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, youth across the world are struggling with capacity building, communication, fund raising, and scaling of their efforts. Employers are looking for people with complex and adaptive thinking abilities who can cope with a multifaceted, volatile, and unpredictable job environment. In a modern labour market, youth are expected to recognise the interconnectedness of business communities. The breach between what is taught in class and what skills the recruiters are looking for points out the gaps to work upon. Bangladesh, having a large number of unemployed youth, is struggling with additional challenges as well. The absence of quality education and skilled labour force have been identified as the auxiliary causes of this predicament. In a roundtable discussion jointly organised by The Daily Star and Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center, a number of renowned CEOs of reputed companies had pointed out that the most common factor behind unemployment in Bangladesh is the existing skill gap between employers' demands and employees' capabilities. Ironically, while there are so many people looking for suitable jobs, employers lament the scarcity of skilled graduates who can foresee the future leadership trends.
Reflecting the changes in the environment, competencies that will be most valuable to the future leaders appear to be changing. The essential qualities that future leadership entails are adaptability, creativity, ability to think strategically, and openness to ambiguity. Different leadership organisations are working relentlessly to equip graduates with these qualities. A number of institutions have introduced leadership programmes to fill the analytical void by equipping our youth with critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills. Students learn to think critically about leadership through participating in the experiential learning model of the training programmes. By practicing community services, participants translate their learning into action and complete the curriculum. To enhance the job search abilities of the youth, a number of professional organisations help graduates learn professional skills and place them in different organisations. Understanding the global perspective, prospective organisations prepare eligible workforce who are adjustable to adverse work environment and flexible to team management.
With the aim of having a better society, some Bangladeshi youth have brought solutions to different social challenges. Innovators like Osama Bin Noor, Co-founder of Youth Opportunities, Ayman Sadiq, Founder of 10 Minute School and Zaiba Tahyya, Founder and CEO of Female Empowerment Movement, have proved that leadership is a collective development process spread through networks of people. They experimented with new approaches and combined diverse ideas for implementation. Their aim for collective development not only made them competent enough to fight social odds but also rewarded them with prestigious recognitions.
Compared to the social challenges, only a small number of Bangladeshi innovators have found solutions through democratising leadership. However, it is certainly not enough. We still are limited to organising roundtables, identifying the skill gaps and discussing the discrepancies whereas by 2018 we should already have youth engagement in the policy making process. Our country having already attained the prerequisites to be a developing one, requires policy efforts to equip youth with leadership skills and create scopes for placement at different organisations.
Depending completely on some institution to curb unemployment is not an ideal option. If a student wants to secure a suitable job right after graduation, an interdisciplinary knowledge over business, economics, corporate strategy, and technology is a must. Only a bachelor's degree in one concentrated curriculum does not make him proficient to cope with the volatile working environment. Along with regular studies, one should opt for online tutorials and professional courses to mitigate the skill gaps prevalent in the 21st Century. A graduate, efficient in data management, design thinking, scrum skills, case solving, blog writing will always remain one step ahead from his less informed contemporaries. Using technological advances, different international universities are offering free courses to students across the globe. These courses are designed to help them learn more than what the textbooks can offer. Labour market in the 21st Century highly recommends students to participate in online and offline skills development courses and be aware of the demands of the future job market.
Towhid Khan is Manager, Office of Professional Development (OPD), Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC), and Sanjida Chowdhury is Executive, OPD, BYLC.