Bangla Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sorry, no vacancy!

bangladeshi

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time now, long before the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Gone are the days of packing off hordes of unskilled labour to the Middle East, Malaysia and other destinations around the world, and seeing the remittance pouring in like magic. It was like some sort of fairy tale contraption, where you feed straw in one end of the machine and gold comes out of the other end. The straw may be mangled and crushed in the process, but the end product is all that matters.

Those days are fast dwindling, have actually dwindled already. Just as they left the country in hordes, we now see workers returning to Bangladesh from all their employment destinations. Hit hard by the Covid pandemic, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries in the Middle East, are sending back Bangladeshi workers en masse. The companies which had employed these workers there are now on a massive retrenchment drive. Unskilled labour is being hit the hardest as most construction work has come to a halt with no sign of resumption any time soon.

Oil prices have plummeted too and the Arab countries may not be so generous in doling out the petrodollars as in the past. That means even after the pandemic is over, prospects of hiring workforce in bulk from Bangladesh have also thinned out.

Back home too, the job market is shrinking. Given the Covid-induced economic recession, businesses are cutting down on expenses, and cutting down drastically. One of the main areas of their money-saving strategies is laying off employees. And the process has begun. Banks have not only begun large scale lay-offs, but are also slashing salaries. Many banks are not even sparing their MDs and other top officers from these salary cuts.

It is the same in all other sectors. In the readymade garment industries, workers are being laid off as in the other industries too. Domestic help have already lost their jobs. Small and medium enterprises are faltering, struggling to keep their heads above water and so people are losing jobs there too.

The picture is not a pretty one. It is bleak. And it is real.

One the other side of the picture, youth are entering the job market in thousands. It is a challenging time for these new entrants into the world of employment. They have graduated, stepped fresh out of their student life and are ready to enter the ‘real’ world. But the real world has an unreal sense of alarm. Where are the vacancies?

Coronavirus has sent the job market reeling. Government and private organisations are not making fresh appointments at the moment as the pandemic is nowhere near abating in Bangladesh.

With the improved salaries and benefits, civil service has once again become an attractive profession for smart young graduates. But the BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) exam has been suspended.

The banking sector has also been a lure for job aspirants, but no notices have been published for any new appointments. No job advertisements have been published. The pharmaceutical sector too is not advertising for any new recruitments. None of the big sectors are opening their job doors.

According to a recent report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the job market in Bangladesh has crashed due to coronavirus. Job advertisements had fallen by 35 percent in March compared to the corresponding period of last year. In April these fell by 87 percent. The manufacturing industry had 92 percent less job advertisements. In the health sector job ads fell by 81 percent.

It had been thought, if nothing else, the IT sector was the future. Yes, it may be the future, but at present, it’s no vacancy here too. In this sector job ads fell by 82 percent. Job ads have fallen by 64 percent in the NGO sector.

The way ahead

Frustration is setting in among the youth who had been looking forward to enter the job market and begin to earn a living. As if the coronavirus pandemic is not alarming enough, the lack of job prospects is scary too.

It is not only the youth who are frustrated. People already with secure jobs, realise their jobs are no longer secure. Those who have not already lost the jobs are on constant tenterhooks, anxious if they will be the next under the axe.

But there is no use in wallowing in dread or despondency. This is reality and a reality that must be faced.

From beforehand there had been a lot of talk about prepping for the new global realities. With robotics, artificial intelligence and the evolving new work scenario, people would be losing their jobs anyway. When one robot can do the work of 100, that means bye-bye to at least 90 workers.

Coronavirus has taught us the skills of working from home. It has taught us online shopping. Less human interaction, more technology. Good or bad, that is the name of the game.

So, what is to be done? It is time for skill development and re-skilling.

In Bangladesh, the pandemic has stripped the health system bare and revealed all its deficiencies. It has revealed that there is dire need for skilled health technicians, well trained health workers. This is where the young people should now direct their efforts.

Then there is the digital world of technology where skills need to be developed.

The future lies in gig economy, mental health, gaming, online education, alternative energy, data science and more.

Among the older generation, it is time to re-skill. There is no time to hesitate or imagine that you are too old. Did you think that instead of proudly making a power point presentation at an international conference, you would be doing quite the same over Zoom in your own home, communicating with many people, if not more? But you are doing it.

There is no end to human potential, initiative and enterprise. Coronavirus has hit us hard. But the world hasn’t stopped and so neither can we.  

So, let us learn skills, re-skill and prepare ourselves for the challenging times ahead. Survival is for the fittest.