Bangladesh has been a great beneficiary of inward remittance flow due to the migration of labour force. But Bangladesh has also been suffering from massive outflow of remittance. It is being reported that almost USD 5.0 billion worth of remittances flowed out of the country in the last fiscal. Such large remittance outflow is primarily attributed to the employment of more than 200,000 foreign professionals in the manufacturing and service sectors, primarily in the ready-made garments (RMG) industry. On the other hand, a growing number of university graduates are facing difficulty to get employed. According to some reports, graduate unemployment in the country has reached an alarming level, as high as 50 per cent. The obvious question is: instead of recruiting foreign nationals, why don't we employ our graduates to reduce the remittance outflow and address the growing unemployment issue simultaneously.
It appears that the government is concerned about the staggering remittance outflow. To address the issue, it has taken a large skill development programme with the assistance of international lending agencies and donors. There is a possibility that such skill development will increase employment of Bangladeshis within the country, many of whom are now seeking employment overseas. Moreover, such skill development programme has also the potential of increasing the per worker remittance inflow, which appears to be extremely low at this point in time. But, is there a possibility that such skill development programme will lower the remittance outflow?
It's being reported that despite the growth of RMG exports, employment in this sector has remained stagnant for the last few years. For example, reported data indicate that over the last 3 years (2013-2016) there has been no growth in the number of jobs: stagnant at 4 million in the RMG sector. The advantage of low cost labour has been rapidly eroding. Technology is getting cheaper than the low cost labour of Bangladesh, to produce higher quality products at lower cost. As a result, capital in importing technology has been the driver of growth of exports, not the jobs. Such reality has been the underlying cause of per worker export growth from $2,718 in 2010 to $7,023 in 2016. In the given scenario, the driver of growth is not at the bottom of the skill ladder. Rather, it's the managerial ability to organise people and machineries in a disciplined manner to increase productivity to remain competitive.
In addressing the remittance outflow, the challenge is not to increase the supply of labour force with basic skills of performing manual jobs and operating machines. The challenge rather hinges on the managerial skill of organising, supervising, negotiating and taking appropriate decisions. Such skills are primarily developed through the experience of working in professionally rich environment. To address this issue, we should focus on transferring managerial skill of high-end professionals to young Bangladeshis, empowered with organisational process capability. What should be the approach to facilitate such experience transfer? Should we focus on classroom based training, or apprenticeship of junior managers under the supervision of the foreign managers?
It has been found that focusing on streamlining processes facilitates expertise transfer at a rapid pace. Moreover, process-centric organisation of production activities also makes it easier for organisations to accelerate on-the-job learning. Instead of waiting for instruction from the experienced foreign professionals, the focus should be to transfer valuable experiences in the form of organisational policies, procedures and standards towards forming process assets. These process assets should be linked, monitored and controlled with the support of information technology.
In a recent article, a global consulting firm Mckinsey & Company has given importance to intelligent process automation to develop next-generation operating model for organisations. Diverse low-cost sensors could be installed at discrete steps of production line; data gathered from those sensors could be interpreted by software; gathered intelligence could be interpreted within the framework of policies, procedures and standards captured from the experts to control the operation.
The process centric learning was at the core of rapid growth of quality and reduction cost of Japanese industry in 1950s. The leadership even came from the top of the society, the Emperor. One of the notable examples is Dr. W. Edwards Deming's engagement to introduce process centric scientific management in Japanese industry. Deming's core message to Japan's chief executives was that improving quality would reduce expenses (by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty) while increasing productivity and market share. The improved quality combined with the lowered cost created new international demand for Japanese products. It's time for Bangladesh to take lesson from this proven success to streamline process not only to increase quality and reduce cost, but most importantly, to reduce the dependence on foreign professionals by transferring experience into organisation wide process assets. The advent of advanced features of information technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics has opened the opportunity to capitalise process capability further.
Although automation emerges to us in the form of robotics to take away manual manufacturing jobs, automation in the form of smart process capability is opening the opportunity of transferring the expertise of experienced professionals into smart process assets. According to an article published in the Harvard Business review, "Knowledge Jobs are most likely to be automated." This is the opportunity for Bangladesh to take the advantage of advanced technology to reduce dependence on experienced foreign professionals, remitting out almost USD5 billion per year. To take advantage from this opportunity, Bangladesh should not just rely on imported technology solutions. Rather the focus should be on developing local delivery ability to capitalise this opportunity n order to address two issues simultaneously: 1. Reduce dependence on foreign managers, and 2. Empower the local software industry to delivery high-end smart process solutions.
It appears that exiting projects which are being undertaken to address skill gaps are not going to address the issue of growing remittance outflow, due to recruitment of high-end foreign managers. On the other hand, underlying technology potential is offering the opportunity to pursue smart process automation to transfer the skill of experienced foreign managers to process assets. To leverage this opportunity, it's time for policy makers to make strategic investment to develop local research and development capacity to support smart process automation. Well though-out policy and regulatory interventions have the potential to address multi-dimensional issues: (i) skill transfer to reduce remittance outflow, (ii) process capability improvement for offering higher quality products at lower cost, (iii) faster on-the-job learning capability, (iv) high-end human resource development, and (v) catalysing the growth of local software firms to leverage emerging smart business process automation opportunity.
M Rokonuzzaman Ph.D, academic, researcher and activist: Technology, Innovation and Policy, is Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, North South University, Bangladesh. email@example.com