Entrepreneurship is not the only answer

Nazim Farhan Choudhury

I am sitting at my office going through stacks of resumes. At least a few hundred to fill the two positions we have. At the end of the day, we might end up with three to four people whom we can call for interviews, but even then, l struggle to fill those two positions. My predicament is not unique. Managers across Bangladesh go through this every working day. Strange, given that youth unemployment is at such a high level. In our outsourcing company, we hope to employ close to 100 new recruits over the next year. How to do it is the nightmare that keeps our HR Manager awake at night.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that our young minds are not intelligent or without talent. But I blame a lot on the education system. Rote learning, as opposed to rewarding debate and inquisitiveness, is what kills the young mind. This coupled with a curriculum that is not in sync with industry requirements means that the vast majority of the million or so students who sit for the HSC/SSC exams will remain jobless.

The answer, it seems, is at pushing “entrepreneurship”. That seems to be the miracle drug being prescribed by development agencies and the government. We endeavour to create an army of entrepreneurs who will, waving this magic wand, transform Bangladesh's economy. Now this is all good if we could get these business people to get into enterprises that will be unique (at least at the local area it is situated in) and non-superfluous. What do I mean by that? Well how many more small shops can a village take? Or do you need another phone lady? Everybody I know and their grandmother, it seems, are opening an event management company. The youth by and large tend to get into “businesses” that already exist. They do not add anything new to the mix nor do they differentiate their offering from that of the competition. While being in business might be an alternative to doing a job, it does not make one an entrepreneur.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. But they are exceptions and not the rule. So the person who is not found suitable by prospective employers is now expected to run a business. Often inexperienced and lacking basic business knowledge, these “entrepreneurs” are expected to come up with a unique offering or positioning to create a differentiation. When they cannot do this, they resort to other means to succeed. Hence doing business based not on knowledge and skill but rather on connections and influence. This cannot be good.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs who have created potentially large companies do not find people to fuel that growth. Business across Bangladesh have a huge shortage of mid-management employees, skilled factory floor workers and managers, and people who will lead these companies beyond where the initial investors have taken it. This leads to a unique paradox. Millions and millions of unemployed youth, but businesses in Bangladesh are forced to hire employees from India, Sri Lanka or beyond.

I bet eight out of ten youth I meet are studying or have studied for a business degree. Where are the engineers, or chemists, or mathematicians or even the poets? Where do we get that person who will discover the next big thing? I am afraid this mad rush towards needing to start up one's own business is leading to this tidal wave of undistinguished CVs on my desk. BBA from a private university is now as worthless as the paper on which it is presented. I will venture to say that at most 1000 people are created each year who are good enough to make a dent. That mind you given the 100,000 or so graduates a year, is a mere drop in the bucket! In interviews when I ask the candidate “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” except those who do not name Canada or Australia, say “I want to run my own business, just like you!” Friend, I have a news flash, if you can do a good enough job, you can run this one! But that is not perceivable it seems. Why will I “work” for you when I can “work” for myself?

This is where businesses are shooting themselves in the foot. We are not projecting to the general talent pool that we want to be run by efficient and, yes, entrepreneurial minds, who can take our organisations to a higher plane. We are failing to show that innovation, ingenuity and initiative are encouraged and that we are creating space for these talented people to flourish. This ends up pushing the better talent into multinationals (including telecom companies) and not to the vast array of local corporates like ours who need these people to be the soldiers of growth. There are some local companies I can name who are playing progressive roles in talent management. But how many Reneta, Rahimafrooz, ACI or aamra are out there? I must be honest, I am struggling to think of another!

If you are to look at the success of Indian companies, they have grown because they have professional managers who do the heavy lifting. The only place we lack from our counterparts is not business idea, capital, know how or drive, but these managers. So what is a Bangladeshi businessman to do?

My contention is that our focus and emphasis needs to change from churning out legions of entrepreneurs, to capturing entrepreneurial skill sets and creating capable and able workforce to ensure that our companies can compete with the rest of the world.

Only then will Bangladesh Inc. succeed.