In the most recent civil service exam for government jobs held by the Public Service Commission (PSC), a record number of candidates, totaling around 322,000, sat the exam. They were all hoping to land one of a paltry opening — numbering less than 2,000.
It’s like buying a lottery ticket; the odds being less than 1%. Needless to say, the amount of preparation from both candidates and the PSC is overwhelming, both in scope and logistics.
Among the candidates who passed the preliminary examination, only about 5% qualified, demonstrating either the dismal educational level of the candidates or extremely high examination standards.
And what were the jobs these candidates were vying for?
These are not high-skilled technical or scientific jobs, but mostly generalist in nature that require a minimum university degree in any subject.
Yet an analysis of the applicants’ credentials would reveal that many had science, engineering and even medical degrees.
In a hopeless situation
Why is there a mad rush for these jobs in the general civil service where the salary is probably a third of that of a good private sector job in banking, finance or corporate offices ?
Does the answer lie in the age-old lure of government jobs that has hung over our young people since their grandparents’ days? Or in the simple inability of the country’s private sector to provide jobs for the country’s new graduates?
In any event, this year after year rush into government jobs, mostly in the mundane civil service, underscores the plight of university graduates who are trained by more than 150 universities and nearly 1,700 colleges in the country.
Nearly 1.4 million people have qualified for the HSC exams this year, with a record pass rate of 95%, all of whom are likely to pursue higher education at one of these universities or colleges – not all of them successfully.
The majority of those who can enroll in these institutions of higher education will manage for the next two to four years (depending on the type of institution they enroll in) to obtain a degree and then join the queue. waiting for unemployed young people wandering the streets of Dhaka and other cities.
This is not an encouraging sight for a country aspiring to join the club of middle-income countries in the world.
Higher education does not help
What is missing in this vision of a middle-income country is the future of our young people and a pragmatic plan to make them job-worthy, with an education that leads to becoming employable, both nationally and internationally. international.
Our transition to middle-income status in the near future is largely based on linear growth in our ready-to-wear apparel export earnings and foreign remittances of mostly unskilled labor. , mainly from the Middle East. It is not based on the growth of skilled labour, the growth of high-tech industries or the financial sector.
We cannot use the latter in our projections because this growth depends on the diffusion and quality of higher education, which is more devoted to training our young people in science, engineering and technology than to training graduates in liberal arts and, ironically, in business administration (there may not be a private university or college in Bangladesh that does not offer a degree in business administration that offers the allure of a ready job after graduation and receive high tuition fees).
When students gain admission into any of the universities/colleges, all they yearn for is to land a job that would fulfill their dream and that of their parents. They are lucky if they are admitted to an engineering or medical school, as the products of these institutions are considered more employable.
But 90% of the other students are not so lucky and are not deserving. They fill the roles of students in more mundane, non-technical courses, including the ubiquitous business administration mentioned.
The last resort
Obviously the labor market is not ready for this number of graduates because what they offer as a skill is not a skill at all, or the public sector cannot employ so many people at once .
The only way for these unemployed graduates is to run into the government as an employer of last resort or find desperate ways to flee the country.
So they pass the civil service exam and hope to land in one of those inaccessible jobs.
The question is: how do we reverse the trend and make the expectations of our young people more manageable?
The need for pragmatic decisions
It makes sense for all young people with a college education to get a job and be compensated for the hard work and resources they put into their education. But it is also reasonable to make young people realistic about their expectations.
In a rapidly changing job market with demands for skills that produce goods and services suitable for today’s global marketplace, today’s youth are ill-equipped with a degree in the liberal arts or other fields. non-technical.
In most developed and developing countries, they train their young people in a wide range of jobs, ranging from construction, automotive, business and industrial education to information technology (hardware and software) and health sciences. These jobs don’t even require a college degree or college degree. Education provides them with a skill that is easily employable.
High school graduates in the majority of industrialized countries do not have to enroll in universities or colleges for higher education to find employment. They can enroll in one of the public or private technical institutions and obtain their professional certification within a year or two to enter the labor market.
They don’t have to join a queue for the unemployed or wait for an illusory job in the civil service.
Easier said than done
I know it is easier said than done to move from this state of job scarcity to job wealth for our young people without substantial changes in our approach to higher education. We need significant resources for technical education and to guide the country through timely reforms of our education system.
But in a country where we see huge spending on bridges, urban transportation and energy projects, we have little spending on human resource development by creating and developing institutions that train our young people for employment.
Shouldn’t we divert part of our investments in the training of our young people by building technical and vocational establishments, perhaps making them free? Shouldn’t we emphasize in our policies that it is skilled labor in employable skills that we need to move up to the next level of national income status?
Advance the country
There are ways to develop our country economically and socially. The increase in our exports and the generation of income from abroad have led to our current state of economic development.
But sustaining it and giving it the desired middle-income status in the world will require massive efforts to develop our human resources with the right education, skills and training.
This skill is not necessary to fill the long lines of government job seekers. Skills and training are needed to meet the challenges of a labor market currently beyond the reach of our so-called college youth.
These are necessary to move the country forward. Growing competition among incompetent graduates for limited government jobs will not lead us to the place we want in the world.
Ziauddin Choudhury worked in the senior civil service in Bangladesh early in his career, then for the World Bank in the United States.