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Bangladeshi tech companies risk losing competitive edge without HR changes

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    A shortage of skilled software engineers is holding back business growth, innovation and investment in many parts of the world.

    More than 80% of employers in the United States and Canada say there aren’t enough software engineers, according to a survey by TECNA, Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix that also predicts that capacity in the industry is declining. The European Commission last year warned that Europe could face a deficit of up to 900,000 information and communications technology professionals by 2020 because of a shortage of coding ability. And a report commissioned by Cisco also found that a shortage of tech skills in the Asia Pacific region is a significant issue, particularly in Japan.

    In some countries, employers are responding with higher wages and attractive benefits packages to motivate and retain staff. But managers of information-technology (IT) companies in other countries appear to be less aware of the need to keep workers, treat them fairly and comply with local labour legislation.

    This is the case in Bangladesh, which has a significant amount of manpower, but risks losing its competitive edge should IT companies invest in training technical staff who become dissatisfied with how they are being treated and then jump ship to work for rivals in other countries.

    A November workshop in Dhaka on corporate culture, coaching skills and using competency frameworks underscored this risk, says Anne Chappaz, a consultant at the International Trade Centre (ITC). She began the training session, which targeted members of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) by asking participants what challenges they faced as they work to represent the Bangladeshi IT sector.

    Labour legislation in Bangladesh is designed to protect employees. But faced with tough price-driven competition, some IT companies have been forced to seek efficiency, staffing flexibility and low wages, risking non-compliance with the legislation.

    ‘A change in perspective is required, and it would be great if these CEOs could realize the importance of applying best practice to hiring, rewarding and retaining staff for the survival of their business in a global market for talent,’ Chappaz said.

    That’s because good employment practice is a strategic requirement, not just a legal one, and is connected to global competitiveness and risk management, Chappaz said.

    ‘A shift in thinking is required by managers of IT companies,’ she said. ‘Instead of seeing the legal framework as a compliance barrier, they should see it as the lowest required level to ensure that staff believe they are treated fairly and honestly, salaries are fair and loyalty will be rewarded.’

    The workshop addressed other issues as well, including staff awareness of performance appraisals, the frequent disconnect between rules and practice by management, ways to optimize the hiring process, ways to manage employee expectations and key performance indicators for workers and managers. But Chappaz’s central focus was on helping Bangladesh’s tech companies find – and keep – the best people.

    One way to improve the situation would be for the country’s IT sector through BASIS the industry association to lobby for changes to domestic human-resources laws. This would support Bangladeshi companies’ efforts to compete globally. Without a move by managers in the IT sector to comply with and exceed the requirements of employment laws, Bangadeshi tech companies risk eventually losing their competitive advantage.

    ITC is partnering with BASIS and the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the Netherlands Trust Fund III (TF III) project in Bangladesh, which sponsored the HRM workshop. NTF III, funded by the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, seeks to enhance the export competitiveness of Bangladeshi IT and IT-enabled services sectors.

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