Mark Rolls is the Project Director of Sudokkho and leads Palladium’s work on Skills and Employment in the EMEA region.
As the world focuses on post-COVID-19 recovery and ‘building back better’, there is good reason to invest in skills training as part of that effort. Around the globe, employers are struggling to find workers with the skills they need. For workers, this can be a huge opportunity to re-train, upskill and find new well-paid jobs, which makes it all the more puzzling when reviews on the effectiveness of vocational training programs come back mixed. Recent evidence reviews find that many training projects have only a modest impact on job creation and employment, and are expensive relative to the income gains that they achieve.
Sudokkho, a UK and Swiss government-funded vocational training program in Bangladesh, has shown how private sector-led training can effectively support young people into work and do so cost-effectively. Over the last six years, training delivered by the private sector in partnership with Sudokkho has helped over 71,000 young people into work at the cost of GBP 216.00 per head.
The Sudokkho training model has been particularly successful at reaching the extreme poor, who represented 63 per cent of Sudokkho trainees.
Sudokkho tested two models of training delivered by the private sector. The first was delivered by commercial training institutions, and the second was delivered directly by employers in the workplace.
Focussing on sectors with a shortage of semi-skilled labour in Bangladesh – garment and construction – the program seized on the often-ignored opportunity for the private sector to deliver training that met the needs of the poor who had fallen through the gaps in the skills training system.
In Bangladesh, there had been few industry-aligned, short courses that could help potential employees into semi-skilled jobs, and job-seekers for these occupations rarely met the entry requirements for traditional government training courses. In a context where training has historically been paid for by donors and government who pay high subsidies, Sudokkho instead sought out training courses that individuals were willing to contribute to and that employers valued.
Partner training institutes have noticed a difference.
“The quality of training has greatly improved, with trainers preparing lesson plans according to the curriculum and conducting the classes accordingly,” says Md. Sumon Molla, owner of the Glorious Technical Training Institute. “As a result, the rate of graduation has increased to almost 100 per cent. Our employee performance, training outcomes, business growth, and the recognition and reputation of my organisation have greatly increased.”
In-Factory Training in the Garment Sector
The approach to in-factory training with the garment sector proved to be particularly successful and has been implemented in 194 factories across Bangladesh, which have invested a total of GBP 6.9 million in training.
In this approach, unskilled workers (91 per cent of whom are women) received structured in-house training delivered and funded by the employer. The training courses were short and intensive, responsive to the needs of the factory floor, actively involved middle management, and were delivered by supervisors.
According to Sakhawat Hossain Khan, Deputy General Manager at Far East Knitting and Dyeing Industries, employees trained by Sudokkho added productivity to their operations.
“The biggest development we observed after we started working with Sudokkho workers was that we could quickly deliver trained workers within 15 days according to the demands of the production floor,” he notes. “It brought a drastic change to our way of working.”
As the Sudokkho program comes to an end after a successful six years, it’s a testament to the efficacy of the training models that a large international clothing retailer and Sudokkho partner plans to continue this training as a flagship project within its sustainable business approach. The training model has also been picked up by industry association BGMEA’s university, BUFT.
Affordable and Effective Training
Why has Sudokkho’s training proven to be so cost-effective? First, it focussed on affordability. The direct costs for a Sudokkho course were around GBP 56.00 to 85.00, which trainees could recoup within two months of employment. In contrast, a developing country training course might typically range from GBP 350.00 to 12,500.00 per person, which could take upwards of four years for employees to recoup the costs.
Second, employers were more willing to invest in training delivered directly in the workplace.
Finally, the emphasis on industry-aligned, competency-based training has helped over two-thirds of training graduates into better jobs.
Rather than write off skills training as poor value for money, Sudokkho’s experience shows how innovative training approaches aligned with industry and delivered by the private sector in the workplace can offer compelling returns for both jobseekers and employers.
Sudokkho, which means “skilled” in Bangla, was a GBP 19 million skills training programme in Bangladesh funded by the UK and Swiss governments, supporting low-cost training delivered by the private sector in the ready-made garment and construction sectors. Sudokkho was managed by Palladium in a consortium with the British Council and Swisscontact.