The issue of appropriate skill development surfaced again on last Saturday when the pharmaceutical industry honchos told the Samson H Chowdhury Conference that they were still dependent on expatriate professionals, particularly on those coming from neighbouring India.
It was apparent from their speeches delivered at the conference that they are not anyway enjoying such dependence on alien professionals when the local public and private universities are churning out a large number of pharmacists and chemists every year.
Scores of pharmacy graduates are now either unemployed or doing jobs that have no relevance to what they learnt during all those years in universities. Such dissimilarities in employments, however, are very common in this country. There are many instances where doctors and engineers have taken up profession of journalism or become civil servants. It is not that they have regrets for being exceptions.
The country's pharmaceutical industry is quite old by now. Prior to the adoption of the National Drug Policy in 1982, the local pharmaceutical companies had a small presence and the multinationals dominated the market. The Drug Policy had made all the difference and the situation is now altogether opposite to what was prevalent before 1982.
Local pharmaceutical companies are now meeting more than 92 per cent of the domestic demand. Bangladesh which is the largest producer of medicines among the least developed countries (LDCs) has also made a modest entry into the global pharmaceutical market.
However, the exemption from the compliance requirement under the World Trade Organisation's Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and a sizeable domestic market have helped Bangladesh become a major producer of drugs and medicines among the LDCs.
Though the exemption from the patent protection has been extended up to 2033, Bangladesh with its likely graduation from the LDC category by 2024 could be excluded from the benefit. So, Bangladesh is destined to face tough challenges sooner than the time anticipated earlier. But is the country ready for that in terms of acquisition of necessary technology, expertise and production capacity of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API)?
Investment of necessary funds and policy and other supports from the government would enable the industry to acquire technology, but it would be difficult to get local expertise within a short time.
What is evident from the prevailing situation is that none has ever bothered to look at the actual requirement of technical manpower in the domestic pharmaceutical industry.
It is not known whether the industry people have ever told the government or the University Grants Commission (UGC) of their requirements and to do the needful.
This is how things have been going on in this country. Relevant industry people do very often lament dearth of skilled manpower, but they did not notify the relevant institutions to introduce necessary curricula and ensure supply of manpower they need. The government too has been oblivious of the need of different industries.
An identical situation, as far as the availability of skilled manpower is concerned, is being witnessed in the country's readymade garment industry, the number one foreign exchange earner. This industry is also employing a large number of expatriate skilled hands. Owners of big apparel units do claim that they have been forced to employ the foreigners since there is a serious dearth of skilled manpower that the industry needs.
There could be a few more industries employing foreign professionals and skilled hands. However, it is hard to know the actual number of foreign workers employed here since many employers avoid taking permission from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) and other relevant government agencies in this regard.
It is assumed that the number of foreign workers, particularly those from India, in Bangladesh is sizeable. The amount of money they send back home is a pointer to that fact. However, such employment becomes an obvious development when their replacements are not available locally.
The shortage of skilled manpower and professionals that are in high demand in job markets like those in the Middle East and Southeast Asia is also considered a major weakness on the part of Bangladesh.
The number of Bangladeshis now employed in overseas countries is huge. But a very small percentage of them are skilled, semi-skilled and professionals. The country's remittance earning would have been much bigger if it could send a greater number of skilled and professional people abroad.
The government reportedly has taken up a number of skill development programmes and schemes. But those are unlikely to meet the demand for skilled manpower either from domestic industries or external job markets.
Under the circumstances, it is highly important to assess the need of the domestic and foreign job markets with a focus on skilled manpower and professional hands.
Remodelling the entire education system in the light of the assessment results would be yet another important step. This particular step is likely to face serious resistance from the vested quarters that are more interested to churn out university graduates in their thousands every year and mint money out of that traditional process.
Failure to implement the steps mentioned above would only result in the production of a huge number of educated unemployed youths every year while major industrial sub-sectors would continue to remain dependent on foreign skilled hands and professionals.
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