Revolutionizing Employment: The Impact of Smart Bangladesh on Domestic and Global Job Markets

Navigating the Workforce Landscape: Addressing Challenges and Opportunities in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In anticipation of the transformative impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), akin to preparing for an impending storm, proactive measures are imperative. The next two decades are poised to usher in significant challenges to global employment, as highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s projection that 50% of employees worldwide will require reskilling by 2025.

Within this global context, a recent study commissioned by a2i reveals that Bangladesh faces a potential risk to 47% of jobs by 2041 across five key sectors. Notably, the readymade garments industry, which currently constitutes a staggering 81% of Bangladesh’s exports, is particularly vulnerable, with 60% of its jobs at risk. However, amidst the apprehension of automation and 4IR causing the potential loss of 5.5 million jobs, there lies a silver lining – the same technological revolution holds the promise of creating 10 million new jobs.

To address this dual challenge and opportunity, the a2i Future of Work Lab has assumed a pivotal role. The lab is actively orchestrating the development of a collective intelligence system that harnesses data and insights from a diverse array of sources. This includes input from hundreds of public and private skills service providers, over 40 industry associations, job seekers, and coordination with 32 government departments under 23 ministries and agencies.

The overarching goal is to respond effectively to the impending challenges by providing workers, businesses, and the government with accurate insights into the current employment landscape and crucial future trends. By meticulously analyzing existing data and anticipating future trajectories, the Future of Work Lab generates actionable insights and guidance. These insights not only facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the prevailing facts but also offer strategic recommendations on how to navigate and respond to the evolving employment landscape shaped by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In essence, the Future of Work Lab serves as a linchpin in aligning stakeholders, leveraging collective intelligence, and ensuring that the nation is not only prepared for the storm of technological change but is also equipped to harness the opportunities it presents. Through a collaborative and data-driven approach, it stands as a beacon, guiding the workforce, businesses, and the government towards a resilient and adaptive future in the face of unprecedented shifts in the job market.

When we see a storm coming, we do our best to prepare. Spurred by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) the next two decades are likely to bring some very big threats  to jobs right across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of all employees worldwide will need reskilling by 2025.

A recent study commissioned by a2i projects that 47% of the jobs in Bangladesh may be at risk by 2041 in 5 sectors — including 60% of jobs in readymade garments, which currently represents 81% of Bangladesh’s exports. However, the flip side of the potential threat  of losing 5.5 million jobs through automation and 4IR is that the same technology revolution also has the potential to create 10 million new jobs.

a2i Future of Work Lab is orchestrating the process of creating a collective intelligence system that leverages data and insights gleaned from hundreds of public and private skills service providers, 40+ industry associations, and job seekers as well as 32 government departments under 23 ministries and agencies for responding to these challenges, providing workers, businesses and the government with accurate understanding of the current facts, and critical future trends.

By analyzing the current facts and critical future trends, it generates actionable insights and guidance on how to respond.

In 2009, the ambitious Digital Bangladesh Vision 2021 was unveiled, marking a significant step toward progress. Now, 13 years later, the government is steering the nation towards becoming Smart Bangladesh by 2041, envisioning a prosperous country propelled by a knowledge-based economy.

Forecasts indicate that Bangladesh will transition from a labor-driven economy to an advanced knowledge-based one by 2041. This transformation hinges on achieving a per capita income of US $12,500, a substantial increase from the current level of US $2,824.

To materialize this monumental vision, policymakers have meticulously devised a 14-point action plan, shaping the contours of ‘Smart Bangladesh 2041.’ The key components of this vision encompass smart education, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, smart trade, smart transportation, and more.

Over the past decade, Bangladesh has made remarkable strides in the digital realm. The government’s commitment to the Digital Bangladesh initiatives has prioritized projects aimed at expanding online accessibility, with the goal of catalyzing extensive economic growth. Notable initiatives include the establishment of an extensive network of over 8,500 Digital Centers providing online services to the remotest areas. Moreover, the creation of 86,000 digital classrooms and the training of nearly 1.5 million children in information technology underscore the commitment to digital inclusivity.

The ICT sector has played a pivotal role in propelling the economy forward. Information technology exports, which stood at approximately $25 million in 2008, have soared to an impressive $2 billion in 2021. The Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry has similarly witnessed substantial growth, expanding at a rate of around 24% annually. From generating a modest $4 million in revenue in 2008, the BPO industry now contributes around US $68 million annually and employs nearly 45,000 people.

Notably, Bangladesh has witnessed a burgeoning freelancing community, currently ranking as the world’s second-largest pool of freelancers. In a world where the gig economy is rapidly expanding, Bangladesh has embraced this trend, contributing to the dynamic evolution of its employment landscape. The Smart Bangladesh vision is not only transforming the nation domestically but is also positioning it as a key player in the global job market.

Transforming the Landscape: Advancements and Challenges in Bangladesh’s Hardware and Digital Initiatives

The hardware industry in Bangladesh has undergone a remarkable transformation, with a significant shift towards local assembly of mobile phones within the country. Notably, some smartphone brands have expanded their horizons by exporting their products to neighboring countries. A pivotal player in fostering the growth of this industry is the Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City (BHTC), a sprawling industrial park spanning 355 acres. Anticipated to host cutting-edge facilities tailored for tech-based industries, BHTC has become a magnet for investment, attracting around 70 tech companies that have collectively injected millions of dollars into the venture. This strategic move aims to position Bangladesh as a hub for manufacturing world-class tech-based products.

Furthermore, the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) has collaborated with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) to elevate research and development efforts in the IT industry. This partnership is set to contribute to the upskilling of the youth, focusing on crucial areas such as cybersecurity, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and more.

While strides have been made in hardware and technology, the Digital Bangladesh initiative achieved a major breakthrough with the Surokkha platform. Developed by the ICT Division, the Surokkha mobile app and web portal played a pivotal role in the initial registration and distribution process of the Covid-19 vaccine. Garnering over 5 million downloads from Google Play, the platform proved instrumental in ensuring widespread vaccination during the pandemic.

However, the journey towards a smart and digitally inclusive Bangladesh faces several challenges. The affordability and speed of the internet remain critical issues, with Bangladesh ranking 125th globally in mobile internet speeds. The e-commerce industry, despite its boom, has been marred by fraudulent activities on various platforms, hindering industry growth.

Government reviews have highlighted inefficiencies in digitized services, with slow servers and unreliable internet impacting the utilization of 761 digitized services. Issues ranging from obtaining e-documents to e-passports and e-trade licenses have been reported, exposing the challenges faced by citizens in accessing essential services.

Moreover, several home-grown public apps have fallen short of expectations, with maintenance issues leading to their removal from Google Play. The state-owned Telephone Shilpa Sangstha (TSS) faced setbacks with the “Doel laptops”, prompting a suspension of the project. Despite this, TSS is making efforts for a comeback, contemplating a hi-tech park designation to attract local and foreign investments.

The digital divide, particularly during power failures, exacerbates challenges in accessing information through ICT for rural and urban users. Frequent power cuts have hindered the productivity of freelancers, highlighting the need for reliable internet services.

In conclusion, the journey towards a Smart Bangladesh is ongoing. Leveraging the demographic dividend, the nation can strengthen its global standing through innovation. Only through the pursuit of advanced and knowledge-based initiatives can Bangladesh truly achieve the vision of a “SMART BANGLADESH.”

Written by-

Eng. M. Mahmudul Hasan
ICT & Development Analyst, Telecommunications Independent Consultant

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