Technical skills or soft skills?

Published : 14:47, May 25, 2018 | Updated : 14:53, May 25, 2018

Ashir-In-TisharBangladesh has recently achieved 7.24% GDP growth rate, the highest ever after the independence. In consecutive 2 fiscal years, the country is experiencing more than 7% GDP growth rate. Per capita income also reached its highest level (USD 1,603) in current fiscal year. Yet, unemployment is a major concern in the country’s economy. Most importantly, employment elasticity has decreased over the period along with other South Asian countries.
According to the Labour Force Survey (published on March 2017), around 2.6 million people are unemployed in Bangladesh. Ministry of Primary & Mass Education (MoPME) emphasised vocational training to generate employment and skilled labour. The expectation was that training on specific trade would make the graduates technically more efficient and thus they would be able to get a job or create employment opportunity for themselves in related fields with their newly acquired skills.
The ministry, therefore, considered implementing a project which not only provided training, but also ensured jobs for all the graduates. Although Malthusian Population Trap indicated population as an impediment for development, in recent years China is a good example that, population can be used as human capital by developing the peoples’ skills. Therefore, unambiguously, pre-vocational training seems a very effective remedy in the context of Bangladesh—one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
A pilot project was implemented by Ministry of Primary & Mass Education to provide vocational training to the specific categories of students who had completed class 5-8 and were aged around 15 years. During the training period, the students received BDT 600 every week. They got training on mobile phone servicing, tailoring & dressmaking, electrical house wiring, beauty care, motorcycle servicing, hand embroidery and electronics technology. Later, a tracer study has been conducted to identify the present income and socio-economic status of the graduates in 8 Upazilas. The findings of the study show some interesting results about which a short narration has been given here.
Before providing vocational training, project management analysed the market to identify the potential trades to ensure their employment. When the training was completed, in some cases there were more graduates than the existing demand for a specific trade and in some cases, the demand pattern changed. Therefore, a number of graduates did not get trade wise job. Due to familial and other reasons, some graduates left the jobs they got after a few months. But the vocational training project still had a significant impact on employment generation.
The training project awarded certificates which helped the graduates to get jobs and more wages compared to others. When two persons have almost same efficiency, the person with a training certificate of some kind of work will naturally be considered more eligible than others. May be it is assumed that those who completed training courses have more technical expertise than others. For example, a boy from Cumilla had little knowledge about electric house wiring but the certificate that he obtained after completing his training, was very important for getting him a job and better salary. Now he is working in a private construction company in Chattagram (Chittagong), contributing to his family from his earnings.
There are many more examples of self-employment. A case study revealed that, a female graduate had knowledge about tailoring and embroidery work but could not manage to earn from that. After completing her training, she could manage to secure some embroidery works. Her family members and neighbours gave her some orders first which she successfully completed. Gaining confidence, she started bargaining over her wages for each unit of work. Along with her technical skill, the soft skill she achieved was beneficial for her.
Likewise in another case, a girl completed mobile servicing training and started to work in Pran-RFL group of Bangladesh. There she had to operate a machine with which she was not familiar at all. Within a short time, not only the girl learned how to operate IT efficiently, but she now teaches newcomers how to operate the machine! Moreover, her supervisor gives her extra work with good payment due to her capacity. As she has become part and parcel of the machine operation, her boss relies on her a lot. The technical knowledge partially helped her to learn the machine operation, while the leadership power, confidence and negotiation power actually helped her to obtain a better position.
Although the training was not intended to develop soft skills, these are some indicative cases where soft skills are also very important along with technical skill for employment generation. With the existing technical knowledge, a person can get employed with better remuneration if he/she also acquires some soft skills.
It pays to ensure that during a vocational training program in future, the agency also arranges for teaching some soft skills. As US Senator Conrad Burns pointed out: “Vocational education programs have made a real difference in the lives of countless young people nationwide; they build self-confidence and leadership skills by allowing students to utilize their unique gifts and talents.”
Ashir-In-Tishar is a research officer of the Bangladesh Institute of Social Research (BISR) Trust. His areas of interest are macroeconomics, poverty, unemployment and social economy. He can be reached at