After almost two dismal years with Corona virus-induced restrictions, despair, and curbs, the world is opening up. It's heartening to see that the manpower export sector has regained its momentum, hit hard by the virus. A TBP report gives a positive picture of the rejuvenated sector, stating that the first four months of 2022 saw a phenomenal rise in exports compared to last year's corresponding period. Reportedly, the increase has been a staggering 136 per cent with 4,26,558 persons going overseas in the first four months of April. For the same period in 2021, the number was less than half.
The three main destinations are Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the reopened market of UAE. If we take the results from the first quarter of 2022 as an indicator, the possibilities for the rest of the year certainly look hopeful, although Bangladesh should be wise to diversify the overseas job market.
Remittance from expatriate Bangladeshis is the second-highest contributor to Bangladesh's forex reserves after the readymade garments or RMG export. In the financial year 2020-21, the remittance receipt was over $22 billion.
The manpower export, which began in the late 1970s with middle-eastern countries, hasn't seen much change in the last four decades, with most workers going to Gulf states falling under the blue-collar category.
It won't be wrong to say that while the number of people going to the middle-east has seen a gradual rise, the work status for most has remained static since very few Bangladeshis hold supervisory posts.
Just sending workers with basic training hinders their chances of progressing to senior positions, usually held by nationals of other developing nations with better communication skills in Arabic and English.
With fluency in functional English, a person can get managerial jobs in markets, airports and corporate centres that offer comfort, better wages, secured employment and, most importantly, a work life balance.
Unfortunately, a proper work environment, including weekend holidays, medical support, and timely payment of wages, often elude Bangladeshi workers because they are either inadequately trained or do not possess proper communication or negotiation skills. Weak communication only makes them vulnerable to exploitation.
The rise in manpower export in the first quarter of 2022 is unquestionably a favourable sign, although how workers are performing overseas and what can be done to improve their performance need to be given immediate attention.
To call a spade a spade, one of the reasons our workers are in demand in the Gulf states is because the posts they eventually occupy are within the low range bracket. This was acceptable in the past, but now we can offer educated experts in other fields, starting from IT to medical to fashion designing to communication experts.
The channel to send white-collar professions should be explored vigorously. At the same time, the manpower export arena must be disabused with fallacious concepts. There is a highly flawed belief that professionals from Bangladesh will not be as competent as counterparts from other nations. This objectionable concept is being reinforced by barring Bangladeshis from openly competing with nationals from other countries.
The middle-eastern countries also require teachers, researchers, and language experts, for which they tend to look to the West. Once the right approach, this is no longer valid since expertise can be acquired anywhere in a globalised world with skill developing tools available widely.
Also, segregating work types by country reeks of discrimination. From the Bangladesh angle, the government should not take the rise in the number of manpower export to be the final achievement. This country has plenty more to offer which the government has to publicise through its missions overseas.
In this regard, a white-collar overseas job hunt can be launched by the ministry for expatriate welfare in collaboration with universities and corporate bodies in the country.