No end in sight for growing graduate unemployment rate

After completing postgraduate studies at a college in the capital of Bangladesh under the National University (NU) around two and a half years ago, Riaz Uddin Ahmed regularly applies for jobs at different government and non-government offices. He also has posted his resume on job boards and sent it to prominent people. But all his attempts thus far have been futile.

“I completed my postgraduation in political science, spending the hard-earned money of my parents. I sit for recruitment tests quite frequently. I sometimes feel hopeless,” Riaz told University World News.

Riaz is covering some of his expenses by providing private tuition to some secondary students. But life without a proper job is embarrassing, he said.

“At the age of 27, I badly need to contribute financially to my family,” he said.

Rising number of unemployed graduates

Not only Riaz, but another 8 lakh (800,000) unemployed people who have completed their higher studies are passing their days in more or less the same kind of agony.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2022 released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics last week, the number of unemployed graduates is rising. In fact, it doubled in five years.

For 2016-17 the Labour Force Survey showed that 390,000 people who had completed higher education were unemployed. That figure has since risen to 799,000.

The unemployment rate among people with tertiary-level education rose to 12% in 2022 from 11.2% in 2016-17.

Unemployment among female graduates is significantly higher than among males. In the 2016-17 survey 8.3% of male and 21.4% of female graduates were unemployed while in the 2022 survey 9.49% male and 18.8% female graduates were unemployed.

Unemployed persons are defined in the survey as all those of working age not in employment during the last seven days, who carried out activities to seek employment during the last 30 days, and are currently available to take up employment given a job opportunity.

Education-Industry linkages

Educationists have blamed the unemployment rates on the absence of academic and industry linkages and a mismatch between what universities teach and what is needed in the job market.

Acting chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Professor Muhammed Alamgir told University World News every year about 10 lakh (1 million) graduates complete their higher studies and pour into the job market, but employment opportunities are way fewer than there are graduates to fill them.

“Many of them lack the appropriate skills required for employment opportunities available to them due to lack of quality education at most private universities and colleges of the National University,” he said, adding that in Bangladesh about 70% of graduates take degrees from colleges under the NU.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus also caused significant disruption and had an impact on the employment landscape and the job market, he said.

Theoretical knowledge vs practical skills

Former UGC chairman Professor Abdul Mannan told University World News: "Our education system from primary to university level puts emphasis on theoretical knowledge over the practical skills necessary for employability. So students do not get the required skills to get jobs.”

A joint study by the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Bangladesh office of the German social development organisation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) released in December 2021 lends weight to Mannan's remarks.

Around 46% of private employers in the country said they find difficulties in filling job vacancies, and most applicants do not possess the skills required, according to the study.

Lack of work experience (35% employers) and required qualifications (32%) are two of the other major obstacles employers have identified in their efforts to find the most suitable candidate for a job vacancy.

A World Bank report in October 2019 said that more than one-third of graduates of Bangladesh remain unemployed one or two years after graduation. Furthermore, female graduates are more likely to be unemployed and out of study two years after graduation: 43% of female university graduates remain unemployed in contrast to 37% of male graduates.

“The high incidence of prolonged unemployment among graduates raises concerns about the job readiness and relevance of skills that tertiary educational institutions in Bangladesh impart to their students,” the World Bank said.

Sought-after skills

Labour market surveys have consistently demonstrated that employers struggle to fill job vacancies for highly skilled positions such as professionals, technicians, and managers: around 69% of employers reported a shortage of skilled applicants for professional positions.

Employers in Bangladesh seek cognitive and soft skills as most relevant for the current work environment: problem-solving and independent thinking; [positive] work attitude; and positive personality.

“However, they struggle to find graduates with these skills,” the CPD and FES study said.

Alamgir said that UGC is planning to launch a website that will carry information about the needs of industries and what degrees universities are offering.

He urged both industry and universities to increase their linkages for the betterment of the country.