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Bdjobs Training and The Future Of Skill Development: An Interview With Mofidul Alam Saikat, General Manager, Bdjobs Training

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Feb 6, 2018

Over the past several years, Bdjobs Training has secured a position of the pioneer for itself in the training and skill development space. The spin-off of Bdjobs.com, the country’s largest online job marketplace, has a long way to go and has a lot of room for growth, but there is no denying that it has played a pivotal role in inspiring a whole lot of other institutional initiatives around training and skill development.

In 2006, Mofidul Alam Saikat, now General Manager of Bdjobs Training joined the organization when it was slowly eyeing expansion. Since he joined the organization, he has played a pivotal role in growing Bdjobs Training’s business, has built a sustainable operation which continues to grow, has grown the number of training programs and improved the overall quality of its training.

Recently Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader spoke to Mr. Saikat to find out and understand the state of Bdjobs Training, its evolution over the years, how it has attracted users over the year and grown, why awareness and understanding remains a key challenge to the growth of training and skill development space in Bangladesh, future plans of Bdjobs Training, and the future of skill development in Bangladesh.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. First, tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today.

Mofidul Alam Saikat

I have a bachelor's degree in English Literature. After my graduation, I began my career in a skill development project led by Syed Anwar Ali, a non-resident Bangladeshi in collaboration with the US Government. Through the project, we sought to educate and train nurses in Bangladesh, and, when the training concludes, these nurses would be given the opportunity of placement in the US. This was a timely initiative since the US had a huge demand for nurses at that time.

A considerable amount of effort went down into it. We looked into the erstwhile nursing education that was offered in Bangladesh. Our project leader approached many US hospitals to facilitate placements for nurses.

We also partnered with State University of Bangladesh and Northern University to design a program and teach nurses. I gathered tremendous experience at that time. I learned that you can achieve the impossible if you have the dedication and work hard.

Afterwards, I worked in several UNDP and World Bank funded training and skill development projects and learned a great deal.

Among many projects that I was part of, one stands out. Before joining Bdjobs Training, I worked in a very interesting project during that time titled Reaching Out-of-school Children (ROSC) which was a multilateral initiative to bring back children who dropped out of school after the primary level. It was a comprehensively designed project and we were being introduced to new techniques and systems of teaching effectively to a diverse group of children effectively. We worked really hard and the project was successfully completed.

After that, I left that job and joined BDjobs. It was back in 2006 and since then I have been here.

FS

What was BdJobs Training look like back then?

MAS

When we first started our training division 12 years ago, it wasn't as big as it is today. We used to have a handful of training programs every month, usually 2 to 3 programs a month. There were only 2 trainers at that time.

When I joined, our first priority was scaling our operation. I was particularly concerned about increasing the number of trainers because I knew that participants would come in plenty once we had enough qualified trainers.

There was a certain trend in training in Bangladesh at that time. Most of the companies used to send their employees abroad for training. The reason was that there weren't enough competent trainers here. It was partly true. We tried to reverse that trend. When participant came into our programs, we used to approach them and tried to understand their respective area of expertise. Then, we used to ask them to make a presentation based on their interest and expertise.

At one point, I came to know about a Canadian training school that offered rigorous programs. Their courses were very well-structured and comprehensive and it genuinely helped participants. That discovery motivated me to think about the need for soft skill, such as--leadership training, effective communication training in the market. As a result, we began to focus on training soft skill.

Many of our instructors, to be honest, failed many times initially. Because of a lack of experience, many of them struggled to provide effective teaching despite their strong knowledge base. The good thing was that we conducted it primarily as an experiment and took the feedback constructively. We used to convey the responses that we received from participants to the instructors immediately so that they can evaluate their shortcomings.

In this way, we were trying to improve the quality of our existing trainers and recruit qualified new trainers. We also introduced Training of Trainers or TOT programs. These programs are designed to cater for the skill needs of trainers. It has turned out to be a fairly successful initiative. Now we have around 250 trainers who provide hi-quality training at our facility.

The idea of providing training opportunities to entrepreneurs also came to me around that time. Surveys done by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics suggested that there were around 6 million entrepreneurs at that time. Seeing the huge community of entrepreneurs, we decided to set up a training program on the overall initiation process of a business. We got an outstanding response from people.

These training programs have proven to be quite effective for small entrepreneurs who want to open a C&F or indenting business. Initially, we used to schedule the programs on weekends only. Now, in line with the feedback we received from our trainees, we are offering evening courses for professionals as well.

One thing which I think helped us from the beginning is that we tried a lot of different things. We regularly introduced new courses. We designed new programs, for instance, after weekend only programs we launched evening courses. We launched programs for companies and so on. I think when you keep trying things and don’t give in to the complacency it helps.

FS

How big is your operation now?

MAS

At the training division, we are currently a team of 18 people. At present, we offer 1,200 different types of training courses. On an average, we conduct and complete 30-35 courses every month where 300-400 trainees participate.

FS

How have you attracted users, both trainees, and trainers and grown Bdjobs Training?

MAS

Basically, we tried to understand the job trend and needs of our participants. We assessed the responses we had received from the trainees in our training programs and attempted a need analysis of job-seekers. It helped us to design courses that genuinely help our participants which has eventually helped us to grow.

Over the time, we also introduced customized programs for a certain group. We also do custom programs for organizations.

One thing which I think helped us from the beginning is that we tried a lot of different things. We regularly introduced new courses. We designed new programs, for instance, after weekend only programs we launched evening courses. We launched programs for companies and so on. I think when you keep trying things and don’t give in to the complacency it helps.

The other thing that we did and still do is taking users feedback very seriously and working them. After every training, we take feedback from our users and analyze them and share them with our trainers and do even better the next time. This mentality of working hard to improve on a daily basis has helped us as well.

FS

How do you reach out to your audience, both trainers, and trainees? I mean, how does your marketing work?

MAS

Digital remains the key tool for us to reach out to our audience and it has been quite useful for us.

Apart from that, we conduct promotional campaigns, particularly to attract corporate clients. We maintain databases of our corporate partners and regularly send out new training programs news and offers to them. That also helps us.

FS

What are some of the major challenges for you now?

MAS

Awareness is one of the enduring concerns in this line of business. People still do not fully grasp the need for training in order to get a good job or get better at their job. I don't think people should participate in this training programs just for the sake of participating. They should realize that they should participate because they need it.

This is a challenge at the individual level as well as, in many instances, corporate level. In many companies, they consider training employees is a cost whereas it should be considered as an investment. This mindset is our primary challenge at this moment.

There are other issues such as trainers and all, but this remains to be the most critical one.

Let me elaborate the problems that accompany lack of awareness about training. When fresh graduates enter into different professions, they learn from their superiors, people who have more experience in the field. But, learning in a corporate setting means that you would rarely get any chance to ask questions. Training is not like that. By nature, a training program gives you the space to ask questions and figure out answers. This is why we need to build awareness about training.

FS

Please tell us about the freelancing projects that you recently completed with the support from the Government.

MAS

The freelancing initiative which we have undertaken in the two cities is funded under the Learning and Earning Development Project (LEDP) by ICT Ministry of the government. The overall scope of the LEPD program was to train the youth to be able to earn in the online marketplace.

Our project's specific objective was to train 3,220 young people and to facilitate them with working opportunities. The project included training on digital marketing, graphics designing, and web development. It was a 2-month long project with the aim to ensure 100% placement for the participants.

We had to put a lot of effort to get this project up and running. You know that in order to get funding, we need to prepare a project proposal to the authority. This proposal contains a two-part plan: a technical one and a financial plan. The first part describes the methodology of how the project is going to fulfill its objectives; and the latter contains the budget. Projects are selected based on the score they receive for the two-part plan. The LEDP projects were selected through a competitive QCBS evaluation process. Normally, only those who could ensure high quality outcome at a low cost would get the funding.

But in our case, we received the highest score despite our high budgetary requirements. There were valid reasons for the increased financial needs, one being that we would be working in a remote region where the participants are deprived of the urban amenities, and, therefore, may lack basic necessary skills. So, we changed our course structure and extended the duration of the program from 2 months. We have also opened up a semi-residential mentoring center to provide comprehensive training.

We have successfully completed the project with a placement rate of almost 100%. The responses we received from participants are really impressive. We got some really enthusiastic participants, and whenever a beginner earn her/his first payment online the joy is a gratifying sight.

Career planning is also an enduring concern. Countless times I've seen people getting confused with their work even after 2/3 years. It happens because people fail to appreciate what they have and become consumed by things that they do not yet possess.

FS

You were talking about the experience you've had in the LEDP projects and how you've used that experience to open up a similar type of programs in Dhaka. can you please tell us more about that?

MAS

Honestly speaking, we have learned a great deal from our project in Rangpur. We are determined to continue introducing such programs in other parts of the country. We are currently looking forward to setting up a new project in Dhaka.

One of the key reasons why we want to keep doing is that we don't see enough initiatives that are dedicated to the cause. The importance of training in our existing professional set up beggars description. We need committed services in this field that seek to train new entrants to unleash their potential.

Selection of who gets to participate in these training programs is also a key concern. Only people with serious dedication and commitment should be selected to enroll in these programs. Otherwise, and this might be a little bit extreme, we'd be in a situation that's better summarized as "garbage in, garbage out". This is where we want to work.

FS

You have been working in this industry for many years, what do you think about overall training business scene in Bangladesh?

MAS

The training scene, or industry if we call it that, is quite nascent in nature. For it to grow, we need patronage from the government.

The authority should recognize professional training centers as educational institutions. Such recognition would act as social reinforcement for us.

FS

Tell us about the emerging job and skill trends in the market. What skills are more sought after now?

MAS

The paradigm shift in technological front we are and will be experiencing in the near future will create a serious crisis of effective leadership and communication. There is already an increasing need for the ability to adapt to changes. People who do not face up to changes will fail to leave their mark.

Emerging ideas and concepts like big data, data management and mining, internet of things, and IT security would also call for newer skills in the workforce of the future.

My first suggestion would be to be self-aware. You need to understand your own thought process and why it is the way it is. To think about something profoundly and to think about something consciously are two different things. The latter gives you the control in your hands which, in turn, enables you to manage your life on a daily basis.

FS

You've been working with and training fresh graduates and new-entrants for many years now. What advice would give to people who are just starting out?

MAS

My first suggestion would be to be self-aware. You need to understand your own thought process and why it is the way it is.

To think about something profoundly and to think about something consciously are two different things. The latter gives you the control in your hands which, in turn, enables you to manage your life on a daily basis.

Career planning is also an enduring concern. Countless times I've seen people getting confused with their work even after 2/3 years. It happens because people fail to appreciate what they have and become consumed by things that they do not yet possess.

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Notes

1. Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sheikh Rahatil Ashekan

2. Further reading on the future of work here.

3. Disclosure: Bdjobs Training is one of our native ad partners and our native ad partnership does not allow editorial access.


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