Skilling up Bangladeshi women

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The Bangladesh garments industry is poised to grow into a $50 billion industry by 2021 and for this, two million semi-skilled workers are needed.  

Non-garment industries such as leather, furniture, hospitality and Information & Technology (IT) are also poised to grow.

But how can we think equal, build smart, innovate for change, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day? 

Female participation in the workforce has been increasing but remains less than half of male participation rates across primary working ages.

Of those females joining work, over 80 percent are engaged in low-skilled, low-productivity jobs in the informal sector with little opportunity for career progression.

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is one important medium to equip women with employable skills and improve their job market participation .  

Overcoming the perception of TVET as ‘male-dominated’ training, women’s participation in technical programs has been steadily rising over the past decade. 

Yet, Bangladesh still has a long way to go with female share in enrollments around 25 percent in TVET programs.

In fact, a World Bank study identifies some keys areas of intervention for improving female participation in technical diploma programs:

  1. creating a gender-friendly environment in polytechnics and workplaces;
  2. developing more service-orientated diploma programs;
  3. developing a TVET awareness campaign for females;
  4. (supporting a career counseling and guidance system for females;
  5. improving access to higher education;
  6. providing demand-stimulating incentives; (vii) generating research and knowledge;
  7. leveraging partnerships to promote opportunities for females and
  8. generating more and better data to track progress and inform policy and operations for female-friendly TVET. 

The Bangladesh government has shown great commitment to improving the skills sector, as a whole, and helping to remove barriers that prevent girls and women from accessing economic opportunities. 

Partnering with the World Bank to meet these challenges, the government's Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) invested in 45 polytechnic institutes to improve female-inclusion in their institutions, upgrade classroom facilities and build capacity to deliver industry-relevant skills.

It also raised awareness on TVET among prospective female students and families by showcasing success stories of female graduates and connecting them to employers through the National Skills Competition and Job Fairs.

STEP yielded substantial results:

Over 40,000 low-income female students received stipends to address financial constraints in enrolling in technical diploma programs; female enrolment increased from 5 percent to 14 percent;  diploma pass rates improved for female students from 50 percent to 81 percent; over 31,000 poor women received short course training in trades such as architecture and computer engineering; and 4,000 females, mostly informal workers, were assessed through the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program to support their graduation to better jobs. A recently conducted tracer study on polytechnic graduates shows that nearly half of female graduates were working, mostly in education and manufacturing sectors. 
Based on its success, the Bangladesh government is keen to continue improving the TVET sector in partnership with the World Bank and other development agencies.

There remains a huge demand for quality improvement and equity in access to skills development.

In order for Bangladesh to meet its future workforce demands, it needs equal help from both men and women. Removing barriers for more women to come into the labor force is a critical step in that direction .

Videos: Watch some of the girls speak about how they have benefited from the technical and vocational training programs and broken into traditionally male job spaces.

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