‘Skills passport’ for migrant workers

Useful certification: Workers unloading construction materials from a cargo ship in Dhaka. Without any formal recognition of their skills or experience acquired overseas, Bangladeshi workers are not able to get good jobs when they return home. — AFP

DURING the early months of the Covid-19 global pandemic, almost 400,000 migrant workers were forced to return home to Bangladesh, not knowing when the crisis would end or when they would return to their jobs.

Each year, millions of Bangladeshi men and women travel afar to work as masons, plumbers, carpenters, drivers, gardeners, cleaners and vendors. Almost all leave these shores without any formal recognition of their skills or experience. To make matters worse, they return home, as many did in April/May of 2020, without any further recognition of the considerable skills and experiences acquired overseas. This not only leaves them unable to get good jobs in Bangladesh, but also leaves Bangladesh unable to capitalise on this pool of skilled human capital.

According to the World Bank, migrant workers remit over US15bil (RM60.3bil) each year to their families to buy food and other essential goods. What is often overlooked is how much they contribute – in tens of billions – to the GDP of the country of destination.

Migration is a key defining feature of Bangladesh’s economy, with tens of millions seeking overseas job opportunities over the past 50 years. The theme for the International Migrants Day in 2020 was “reimagining the future of mobility”. The future of mobility for migrant workers must be envisioned better in 2021.

This migrant workforce has the potential to make significant contributions to the country’s economic development by investing their hard-earned savings in the country, as well as monetising human and social capital acquired abroad, such as new skills and competencies. However, without any recognition of their improved skills or any formal certification—even after several years of good international work experience—many remain stuck with low wages, in low-skilled jobs with low status.

A recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that 60% of migrant workers who have recently returned home expressed a desire to upgrade and seek recognition of their newly-acquired skills. In fact, 75% said that once overseas working opportunities resumed, they would prefer to work in a country where their skills would be justly recognised and rewarded.

Sri Lanka offers a good example of skills recognition wherein the government, in partnership with the ILO and local employers’ groups, offers all skilled workers a National Skills Passport (NSP). The NSP is offered to returnee migrant workers too to help them obtain formal recognition of the skills acquired through hands-on experience and informal employment/training overseas. The NSP is an invaluable document for jobseekers when it comes to finding jobs and keeping tabs on future reskilling, retooling and/or upskilling. It’s also a godsend for employers looking to hire certified, skilled and experienced labour.

The ILO and the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry (MOEWOE) is now exploring ways to introduce a similar scheme in Bangladesh, one that will help employers find the right person for the right job with the right skills. It also benefits the government by helping to streamline migrant workers and returnee workers by skills-type and bridge gaps in the labour market. It also helps the government with long-term skills planning for the economy and future employment creation.

The government of Bangladesh currently uses the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) scheme to measure and certify a worker’s skillsets. TheRPL system was introduced as part of the 2011 National Skills Development Policy to help recognise the evolving, informal and on-the-job skills gained by workers. While many Bangladesh-based workers have acquired RPL certification, millions of migrant workers and returnees remain unaware of the system or its multiple benefits in terms of increased earning power and access to better-paid jobs at home and overseas.

ILO Bangladesh is now working closely with the MOEWOE and Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) to certify returnee migrant workers for their reintegration and re-migration. The country is making steady progress in establishing and implementing a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) system. According to BTEB, there are 411 RPL centres dotted around the country, and they have certified the skills of 41,560 workers, including 15,000 migrant workers.

The MOEWOE is now looking to strengthen and expand RPL and national skills’ passports for Bangladeshi workers across Asia. The Bangladesh High Commission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has already taken the lead and introduced RPL for migrant workers in the kingdom. The plan is to now roll out the scheme to dozens of destination countries, which have high numbers of Bangladeshi workers.

A migrant workforce that is skilled, respected and certified has the potential to be one of the country’s most valuable financial assets. Ultimately, the more these decent hard-working men and women earn, the more their families, and their beloved homeland, will prosper. — The Daily Star/ANN

Tuomo Poutiainen is country director for ILO Bangladesh.

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