Chapter 9. Apprenticeships in the formal and informal economy at the local level in Bangladesh

This chapter analyses two case studies of apprenticeship programme design and delivery in the context of the formal and informal economy of Bangladesh. It analyses the methods of improving participation and deepening employer engagement in order to build skills in a context of a labour market with low levels of skill and high levels of informality. Specific challenges and lessons for other emerging economies are also addressed.


Key findings

  • Bangladesh has a large and young population, many of whom live below the poverty line and are employed in the informal economy. Bangladesh is also developing rapidly through the growth of high value added export-oriented industries that increasingly demand more skills. Two case studies are presented that engage with formal and informal apprenticeship in this context.

  • In the first case study, formal apprenticeships in the context of the high growth and export-oriented leather industry are examined, particularly with respect to the utilisation of employer organisations to align skills supply and demand to meet current and future skills shortages.

  • Attempts to improve the standardisation and formalisation of existing relationship between master crafts persons and young people are explored in the second case study. The role of international actors and not-for-profit organisations are also examined.


This chapter presents two specific cases of employer engagement in skills training in Bangladesh. The first is a formal apprenticeship model in the Bangladeshi leather sector that has been led and owned by employers with stakeholder support. The other case is an informal apprenticeship model run by an NGO with the support of ILO and UNICEF. This model has been field-tested and adapted to respond to the employment, income and livelihood requirements of young unemployed persons, including women and persons with disabilities (PWDs), through direct engagement with the employers namely Mater Crafts Persons (MCPs).

Though both of these are relatively new initiatives starting about four to six years ago, they illustrate good characteristics of sustainable models of apprenticeship training and employer engagement in both the formal and informal economy. These two examples provide potential alternatives to the traditional apprenticeship system (provided by the labour law) which is currently unable to play any meaningful role in the country’s training system. The system has a number of inadequacies, including very insignificant engagement and participation from both employers and apprentices. In 2012, the Government adopted a forward-looking National Skills Development Policy that aims to promote a major reform and revamping of the TVET system. The Policy speaks of, among other things, new employer-led training initiatives and promoting both formal and informal apprenticeships.


In this chapter, the first apprenticeship model (i.e. a formal model) is based on the operations of the “Centre of Excellence for Leather Sector Skills” (COEL). The leather sector is one of the most dynamic sectors in Bangladesh with a high export growth rate. As a labour intensive industry, the sector employs a large number of workers, the vast majority of whom are women, and its value addition is very high. The formal apprenticeship model was supported by the TVET reform programme side by side with the funding support of the SDC and USAID.1

The other model “Skill Training for Advancing Resources” (STAR) focuses on the young people aged between 14 and 20 years. It aims to reach young workers in the informal economy, where the vast majority (approximately 87.5%) of the country’s labour force is employed (BBS, 2011). It operates in five administrative locations (i.e. divisions) of the country. Because of the high incidence of poverty and unemployment, one of Bangladesh’s main development priorities is to reach out to poor and marginalised groups and increase their access to mainstream national development programmes through improved educational outcomes. Job creation through skills development is one of the major pathways out of deprivation and poverty, particularly for unemployed youth. This apprenticeship model provides an answer to the job creation for the young people. It has been initiated with the support of ILO and UNICEF and is being implemented by BRAC, a reputed NGO. Given its initial success, the STAR model is being scaled up throughout the country.

Policy context

Bangladesh is the eighth largest country in the world in terms of population, with an estimated population is 156.4 million in 2014. The country is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with about 1 015 persons per square kilometre (UNFPA, 2015). One of the overarching development proprieties is to alleviate poverty among the populace, as approximately 31.5% of the total population in 2013 lived below the poverty line (government estimates). Measures to alleviate poverty are linked to interventions and progress in several important segments of the economy, including skills training. Skills training initiatives are linked to accelerating GDP growth, increasing investment in human development, improving livelihoods, expanding social services, promoting manufacturing growth and increasing infrastructure development.

Labour market trends

Due to steady GDP growth of about 6% on average per year over the past decade or so, the economy of Bangladesh and its labour market have undergone significant changes. The share of the traditional agriculture sector in terms of both GDP and employment has fallen steadily while that of manufacturing, construction and services sectors has grown steadily.

The total labour force increased to 56.7 million in 2010 from 49.5 million in 2005-06. Between these two survey periods, the growth rate of the labour force was estimated to be 3.10% in urban areas and 3.48% in rural areas (BBS, 2011). Approximately 95% of the workforce was employed in 2010 while 2.6 million were looking for jobs (unemployed). In terms of broad sectoral distribution, the share of employment in agriculture, industry, and services stood at 47%, 18% and 35% respectively.

Of the industrial labour force, the manufacturing employment grew from 5.2 million in 2005-06 to 6.7 million in 2010 (or about 12% of the country’s labour force). This change in the industrial growth in Bangladesh has opened up opportunities for job creation outside the traditional agriculture sector and has brought more dynamism to the labour market. At the same time, such labour market changes have increased demand for skilled workers to create jobs and improve the competitiveness of the enterprises.

Rapid export growth, albeit from a low base, has also significantly contributed to the transformation of the Bangladesh economy. In particular, growth in the export of ready-made garments has been phenomenal and now constitutes almost 80% of the total share of exports. In addition to the readymade garments, export earnings in other sectors, including leather goods, ship building, pharmaceuticals, furniture making, and agro-foods, are also showing promise.

Figure 9.1. Employment by industry, Bangladesh, 2010

Source: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2010).

Table 9.1. Change in sectoral composition of the national workforce

Total size of employed workforce (millions)







Total employment (millions)

Percentage share of total employment

Total employment (millions)

Percentage share of total employment

Total employment (millions)

Percentage share of total employment






















Source: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2011).

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET)

The importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is important to Bangladesh for a number of reasons.

First, according to the Government estimates, about 1.8 million to 2 million mostly unskilled young persons are entering into the labour market every year (GOB, 2011). Compared to this, the number of jobs available is only a small fraction of the number of job seekers. The majority of the young persons, including disproportionate amounts of women and disadvantaged groups, find low-skilled and poorly-productive jobs in the informal economy, or are self-employed. Upgrading skills is one method of improving the income and livelihoods of these workers and can help to bring them out of poverty.

Second, there has been a significant structural economic shift away from traditional agriculture and towards export-oriented manufacturing and services sectors. This has also increased demand for skilled workers, particularly in export-oriented manufacturing industries like garments, leather, furniture, agro-food, pharmaceuticals, and ceramics. Although reliable demand estimates for skilled workers are not available, employers frequently cite the shortage of skills as a major constraint.

Third, Bangladesh’s relatively young population implies a growing workforce for the future, but most remain unskilled. About 63% of the country’s total population belongs to the age group of 15 to 49 years and 37% of the labour force in the age group 15-29 years (GOB, 2011). This relatively young population is often cited as the country’s “demographic dividend”. However, the main challenge is to equip this vast young labour force with employable skills and to provide enhanced support services to ensure a better transition from school to work.

Fourth, the Government of Bangladesh has adopted a policy of overseas employment promotion because of the huge unemployment and underemployment pressure in the domestic labour market. However, about 52% and 14% of the migrant workers are low skilled and semi-skilled respectively. As the Government wishes to increase the percentage of skilled workers for employment abroad, the standard and quality of the TVET system needs to be improved. This will require major enhancements to the quality and relevance of training and greater participation from the enterprise and the private sector in skills training.

Finally, Bangladesh has an ambitious plan to reach middle income status by 2021. To do so, the country should increase investment in the socio-economic development, expand the share of manufacturing in GDP and reduce the share of agriculture, increase and diversify exports, and send abroad more and more skilled workers. These require concerted efforts to produce more and more skilled workers, expand access to technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and to design and develop an inclusive skills system that provides opportunities for those excluded from the formal education system. Most important of all, the system needs to be demand-driven with stronger links with employers and the private sector.

Recognising these trends, the country has embarked on a major expansion of its technical and vocational education and training system, including several donor-supported programmes to reform and expand the system. The development partners include the European Union (EU), ILO, ADB, Canadian Government, World Bank, UK Aid and SDC.

One significant development in TVET is the reform of the system which started from 2008 with the launching of the major GOB/EU/ILO TVET reform programme (GOB, 2012). A major achievement of this reform process has been the adoption of the National Skills Development Policy 2011 (NSDP 2011). This policy sets out a broad-based and forward looking skills system framework for Bangladesh and has made a positive impact on the renewed interest in skills development in the country, including apprenticeships.

Addressing skills matches by emphasising apprenticeship

Bangladesh is facing a paradoxical situation with regard to mismatch between the supply and demand for skills. For example, a skills demand survey by National Skills Development Council (NSDC) had revealed the shortage of skilled workers in nine growth sectors of the economy (GOB, 2012).2 While employers report shortages of skilled workers, huge numbers of unemployed young people are seeking jobs. This is partially due to the fragmented Bangladeshi TVET system, which is comprised of a large number of technical and vocational training centres in both the public and private sectors. These training providers train thousands of graduates, but many remain unemployed. Employers are unaware or sceptical about the quality of the institutionally-trained graduates. In other words, the formal TVET system was highly supply driven.

In response to this situation, the Government of Bangladesh initiated reforms of the system, including through increasing the participation of private sector enterprises in skills training. At the same time, it has undertaken measures to invest in large skills development projects funded by the government from its own and external sources. For example, the National Skills Development Policy 2011 (NSDP 2011) states: “It is important that the TVET and skills training institutions are aware of the skill needs in industry and understand the latest technology trends. Without this knowledge, the skills produced by institutions will not meet the needs of industry” (NSDP, 2011).

Current state of apprenticeship in Bangladesh

Existing programmes

The apprenticeship law was adopted by the Government through the enactment of the Apprenticeship Ordinance (1962) which constituted part of the country’s labour laws. In 2006, the Government of Bangladesh enacted the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006) (or BLA 2006, 11 October 2006) which contains Section XVIII on Apprenticeship. This new Labour Act supersedes the 1962 Apprenticeship Ordinance. According to the legal definition, “Apprenticeship means a system of training in which an employer undertakes to employ a person and to train him or have trained him systematically in an apprenticeable trade or occupation for a period fixed in advance and in the course of which the apprentice is bound to work in the employer’s service”.

Even with the enactment of law as early as in 1962, formal apprenticeship as a mode of training has remained insignificant and unattractive to the employers. Most of the employers are either not aware of the legal requirement for apprenticeship or not willing to participate in the programme. This was pointed out by a survey on apprenticeship carried out by the ILO and the TVET Reform Project in 2009:

“With this definition, formal apprenticeship in Bangladesh is extremely limited with a total of 54 formal apprentices within three formal apprenticeship programs in the private sector. Few businesses are even aware that a government mandate for the incorporation of an apprenticeship structure even exists.”

The NSDP-2011 has identified the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) as the responsible government entity for implementing the apprenticeships in the country3 to carry out its responsibilities, BMET has three apprenticeship offices in the three regions: Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna.

With the initiation of the TVET reform programme, the concept of apprenticeship has gained prominence, particularly as a result of the formation of Industrial Skills Councils (ISCs) with support from the TVET Reform Project. These ISCs were established sector wise and initially five such councils (ISCs) were established. Currently there are 12 ISCs representing 12 industrial sub-sectors. They are playing a vital role in bridging the gap between the formal institutional training system and the enterprises. One of the tasks of the ISCs is to establish Centres of Excellence (COE) in each sector to support and promote employer participation in skills training including a strengthened and expanded apprenticeship system. With the closure of the TVET reform project in December 2015, its successor “Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity Project” (B-SEP) will continue to support the strengthening of both formal and informal apprenticeship in Bangladesh. The project aims to train 6 200 formal and 6 200 informal apprentices.

Apprenticeships in the informal economy

In the Bangladeshi labour market, the informal economy plays the primary role in terms of employment generation and skills formation. Millions of workers, mostly young people, work in the informal economy and only gain skills through informal employment relationships between a skilled worker and one or more apprentices working under their supervision. Since the formal apprenticeship system plays hardly any role in the overall country context, the huge demand for skills is met through the well-developed informal apprenticeship system.

Consequently, efforts have been made to revamp the informal system by introducing a supervised and well-structured model that will follow a standard methodology and process. Such an approach also seeks to improve informal apprenticeships through skills recognition, content standardisation and certification. This has been highlighted in a recent ILO report as follows:

“Despite the system’s strength of providing skills relevant to local markets, informal apprenticeship has a number of weaknesses. Long working hours, unsafe working conditions, low or no allowances or wages, little or no social protection in case of illness or accident, and strong gender imbalances are among the decent work deficits often found in apprenticeships.

On the one hand, upgrading informal apprenticeship is considered important to address these weaknesses. On the other hand, compared to investing in expanding formal technical education and training, it is a cost-effective way to invest in a country’s skills base and enhance employability of youth, since training is integrated into the production process. Improved informal apprenticeship systems can also dynamize local economies by contributing to the diversification of products and services and the innovation, productivity and adaptability of micro and small enterprises.” (ILO, 2012)

Box 9.1. The importance of the informal economy in Bangladesh

The informal economy plays a very dominant role in the labour market.

  • It employs a staggering 87.5% of the labour force (2010) or 47.35 million, in comparison with 6.79 million (or 12.5% of the labour force) in the formal economy.

  • Most of the country’s working poor live in this sector.

  • There is flexibility of entry and exit in the sector.

  • Skill formation is done in a traditional, unrecognised and unstructured way.

  • The productivity, income and earnings of the workforce are usually low.

  • A disproportionate number of women work in this sector: 92.3% compared to the national average of 87.5%.

Thus, notwithstanding the merits and demerits of informal apprenticeship modality, an inclusive TVET system needs to take into account both formal and informal apprentices.

Ongoing apprenticeship initiatives in Bangladesh

A summary of the ongoing apprenticeship initiatives is provided in Table 9.2.

Table 9.2. Ongoing apprenticeship initiatives

Name of the programme

No. of trainees

Duration of the courses

Agency responsible


Formal apprenticeships

Traditional type of apprentices (several enterprises) as per the labour law


3 years and 1 year


The total of number of trainees shown here is for the period 2010-14 from BMET records. The figure changes over time. This type of programme is being delivered as per the country’s formal apprenticeship law. The process is managed by BMET which registers the apprentices, monitors the progress with the employers, and issues certificates upon successful completion of the apprenticeship period. Although no record of post-training employment is kept by BMET, the employability of the apprentices is very high since the credibility of training is high.

Leather sector

(25 enterprises)

Supported by TVET reform project and SDC

11 944

I year

ISC Leather, COEL

This is a programme strongly backed by the employers in the leather sector through the ISC Leather organisation. The number of trainees shown here is the total figure from 2011 to 2015 for a single occupation, namely machine operator. This is widely considered as a successful initiative and supported by several partners and external donors. Employability of the trainees is very high – more than 99%. Training is conducted through a combination of 3-month classroom training at COEL training facility and 9 months workplace training.

Furniture sector

Supported by B-SEP project


6 months

ISC Furniture Sector

This programme has commenced recently (November 2015) in two factories with the full backing and participation of the Furniture ISC organisation. Though training is still ongoing, the likelihood of employment for most of the trainees upon completion of the training is very high. This programme is a part of B-SEP programme that trains 12 400 apprentices (6 200 formal and 6 200 informal).

Informal apprenticeship

STAR (13 trades)

Implemented by BRAC (supported by ILO, UNICEF and BNFE)

6 000

6 months


The training figure is for three years (2012-15). It has been a successful programme with good results. The employment rate for the graduates is almost 99%. More than 50% of the trainees are disadvantaged women (mainly school dropouts) and 8% are PWDs. 3000 MCPs have also been trained which created a large pool for further training.

Construction sector

ILO/Japan Way Out of Informality Project

1 602

6 months


This programme is supported by an ongoing ILO programme which plans to eventually train approximately 3 500 persons by 2016. The programme is cost-effective and supported by the government and construction sector trade union.

Once the programme is completed, lessons learned and sustainability issues will be addressed.

Source: BMET (2010); ILO (2014).

National Skills Development Policy 2011

An important aspect of the NSDP 2011 is the emphasis on the role of the enterprises in the expansion and promotion of apprenticeships in Bangladesh through the encouragement of public-private partnership (PPP). In section 12, the policy describes both formal and informal apprenticeship as an effective means of promoting and expanding demand-driven skills in the country. There is reference to introduction of Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBTA), recognition of qualification through a nationally-recognised qualifications framework known as NTVQF, and recognition of prior learning (RPL).

The policy also notes a “Strengthened Role for the Industry Sectors in Skills Development” and includes provisions for setting up and supporting the “Industrial Skills Councils” (ISCs) as a major vehicle and interface between the training providers and private sector. The ISCs will, among other things, “Support strengthening of industrial apprenticeship program”. In order to expand the apprenticeship system, the NSDP 2011, in “Section 12 Strengthened Apprenticeships” (p.19), states:

“Through the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE) and the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), the apprenticeship system will be strengthened and expanded so that employers, master crafts persons and learners, from both formal and informal economies, can participate in the new system.”

Formal apprenticeships: Centre of Excellence for Leather Skills in Bangladesh Ltd (COEL)

The leather goods and footwear manufacturing industry is an important sector in Bangladesh in terms of both employment generation and export earnings. The sector is comprised of three sub-sectors: leather; leather goods; and leather footwear. In terms of share of exports, it stands second after the RMG sector and its total earning for 2013-14 stood at USD 1.12 billion or close to 4% of the GDP (Manzur et al., 2014). It is a labour intensive manufacturing with strong forward and backward linkages, high value addition, and high growth potential. About 800 000 workers are directly employed in the sector and there is considerable indirect employment (Manzur et al., 2014). However, according to Centre of Excellence for Leather Skill Bangladesh Ltd (COEL) estimates, there is still demand for 60 000 skilled labourers and additional shortages of managers and entrepreneurs.

The COEL was established in 2009 by the Leather Industry Skills Council (ISC) and was registered as not-for-profit organisation under the Company Act. It is a good example of employer-led initiative that leads to qualifications recognised in the public education and training system. The ISC leather manages this initiative. It is a dual apprenticeship model with classroom training for 3 months and workplace training in the factory for 9 months.

The training centre of COEL is situated outside the capital town at Chandra, Gazipur which serves as the hub of COEL’s Leather Skill Training Programs and has the capacity to train 300 trainees at a time. Other than the main training centre, COEL with joint collaboration with the interested factories, are in the process of establishing sub-centres to increase the productivity of the respective factories.


The main objective of COEL is to increase and improve the overall skill level of the workforce of the leather sector to meet the sector’s immediate and long-term skills needs. To achieve this, it seeks to operate as one-stop solution for enterprise-driven training, research, course curriculum development and other skills development events while building its own capacity through international accreditation, certification and public private partnerships (PPP).4 It will formulate policy and procedures, perform advocacy, and monitor enterprise skill development practices in the leather sector.

In the long run, creating employment by upgrading the skills of workers in a major manufacturing sector like leather will contribute to increased income and ultimately reduce poverty.

The COEL are targeting unemployed youth from low socio-economic backgrounds, including women from low-income families who are willing to be engaged in work and increase their earnings and livelihoods. The COEL has also made attempts to include disabled persons in its training programme and organisational policies.


The services provided by the COEL include:

  • Training for several categories of workers such as Machine Operator, Supervisor and Machine Maintenance.

  • Enterprise specific training, including compliance services such as audit and training in environmental issues, labour law, social compliance, fire and electrical safety, and occupational health and safety;

  • Design and product development services like basic and advanced designing training, grading and pattern making;

  • Consultancy services such as business planning, training needs analysis, project proposal development, manual development, and tracer studies; and

  • Research and statistical and data services.

Activities relating to the above services include:

  • Advocacy and promotion of skills development programme in the country;

  • Development of public-private partnerships as well as developing partnerships with the donors;

  • Fostering relations between governments, workers, chambers of commerce and industrial associations.

Governance framework and delivery arrangements

The COEL is managed by the Leather Industry Skills Council as a not-for-profit organisation registered under article 29 of the Companies Act. Demand for training is done through an initial assessment and consultation with the enterprises in the sector, which lead to arrangements for the placement of trainees in those factories. Training is delivered through a combination of classroom training in COEL training centre (3 months) followed by training in the enterprise for 9 months. A performance monitoring mechanism is in place. A mentor from each batch of the respective enterprise supervises every trainee. A log-book of each trainee is routinely checked by the supervisor.

Partnership development

The COEL has developed strong links with a large number of partners. These include:

  • Development partners

    • Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

    • Swiss Agency for Development & Co-Operation (SDC)

    • International Labor Organisation

    • European Union


  • Skill development partner organisations

    • Leather Technologists Small and Medium Enterprises Co-Operative Society

    • Bangladesh Paduka Prostutkarak Shamity (Bangladesh Shoemakers Association)

    • Gana Unnonoyon Kendra (People’s development centre)

    • BRAC

    • Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) – Bangladesh

    • Action on Disability and Development Bangladesh

    • Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh

    • Social Development Foundation

  • International training partners

    • KAIZEN Institute (Japan)

    • CORE Knowledge

    • Footwear Design and Development Institute (India)

    • Intertek

    • Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production

    • I-Train International Training Consultants

Budget and financing

The COEL was supported by several international agencies including US AID, the ILO and EU through the TVET Reform Project and SDC. The enterprises provided the building and other infrastructure while the equipment and other costs are being provided through the donor support like USAID (through PRICE), ILO-EU project and SDC.


Tables 9.3 and 9.4 outline the results of the COEL training. The figures show the positive impact of the training through comparing statistics of pre-training and post-training situation of the trainees. The relatively high participation of women in training, at 64%, also contributes to women’s empowerment.

Table 9.3. Skills training for machine operators



% of total


% of total











1 434


 2 148


1 274


2 104


 3 378


1 665


2 911


 4 576






 1 197


4 317


7 627


11 944

Source: COEL.

Table 9.4. Soft skills training for mid-level management












1 606

Source: COEL.

The COEL is a model which has proved its strength because of high levels of employer participation, demand-driven skills delivery and post-training job creation. Training is provided after signing an MOU with the factory concerned and assessment of skills is carried out in consultation with enterprises. This facilitates successful placement of trainees after training.

Strengths and key factors underlying success

The COEL model has several strong points.

First and foremost, most of the persons interviewed noted that success of COEL can be squarely attributed to a dynamic and committed enterprise leader in the Leather ISC. This has resulted in smooth co-operation between the ISC and COEL and represents a good practice example of employer involvement in skills development. This also underlines the importance of local leadership in driving increased apprenticeship engagement.

Second, the design and delivery of training have been carried out through close collaboration between the training provider (i.e. COEL) and the participating factories. Such mutual interactions have contributed to effective training and highly satisfactory training outcomes as illustrated by subsequent employment of more than 99% and high percentages of females in training and employment.

Also, despite being a relatively newly-established institute, the COEL has been able to develop partnerships with a number of different organisations as a result of strong advocacy and mobilisation by the COEL team and the ISC leadership.

COEL has ensured that its programs deliver credentials through the national qualifications framework that are accredited with BTEB at NTVQF Level – 1. This gives the trainees greater labour market mobility and improved career paths.

Innovative aspects of the initiative

There are several points that could be considered as innovative in the COEL model.

First, the “dual system” used by the COEL model features a combination of classroom training and factory-based training. While these models are relatively common in countries with developed apprenticeship systems, they have rarely been successfully implemented in non-OECD countries.

Second, training was based on competency standards and the trainers drawn from the enterprises were trained, thus building capacity at the enterprise level. Supervisors and management personnel were also trained to further enhance the capacity of the enterprise.

Third, there has been continuous development of training modules to match the needs of the enterprise including in emerging occupations. Because of strong employer and institute collaboration, training materials are regularly updated and both the Institute and employers are involved in the selection of trainees.

Fourth, strong post-training monitoring and follow up as well as the focus on registering as a registered training organisation (RTO) under BTEB as a part of the formal TVET system and having trainees registered with BMET as apprentices.

Finally, strong female empowerment and promotion of gender equity in skills training also contributes to the broader agenda of inclusion.

Weaknesses of the initiative

It was initially difficult to convince the enterprises in the private sector that skills development was necessary for long-term benefit. The private sector is often reluctant to allocate time and resources for development where there is less scope for immediate and direct benefit. This was addressed by strong advocacy by organisations like the ILO through the TVET reform project to generate interest and pro-active support from private sector business leaders. Despite these efforts, the number of participating factories in the COEL programme has remained limited, and more efforts in liaison and dialogue with the private sector should be pursued.

The capacity of the relevant government institutions to deliver services is also relatively limited. This can hinder the expansion and delivery of the apprenticeship programme. ISCs are also generally weak, and do not necessarily have broad industry support. These issues are somewhat mitigated by strong support from key international stakeholders and donors, which can help to create a long-term self-supporting model in future years. There has also been a broader effort to include stakeholders including the private sector and workers organisations into the formulation of skills policy, such as the National Skills Development Policy 2011.

Informal apprenticeships: Skills Training for Advancing Resources (STAR)

This case study examines the Skill Training for Advancing Resources (STAR) programme which was developed and supported by GOB, EU and ILO through the TVET reform project and UNICEF. The Bureau of Non-formal Education (BNFE) of the Government of Bangladesh was involved as the government counterpart of the UNICEF BEHTRUC (Basic Education for the Hard to Reach Underprivileged Children) programme which supported this apprenticeship model.

STAR is managed and implemented by BRAC, a reputed and well-known NGO which has worked towards the alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor for the past 40 years. BRAC has offices in 18 countries. Through the provision of microfinance, it has created opportunities for self-employment, skills development and livelihood improvements for many of its 8.35 million microfinance members. As of now, in partnership with the Ministry of Youth, BRAC has facilitated training for a total of 64 839 youth, 36 044 of whom are young women.

The STAR model, which evolved from collaboration between BRAC, ILO, and UNICEF, is a “dual system” of training delivery that features a combination of theoretical training from a technical trainer, and practical on-the-job training from a master crafts person (MCP). Over the six-month duration of the apprenticeship, the theoretical training component comprises one day per week and the remaining working days are spent on the job. This “dual” system is preferable to open-ended on-the-job training because it provides structured learning opportunities for young apprentices. Similarly, the time-bound nature of the off-the-job training is ideal for young people at lower income levels that cannot afford prolonged periods “without work” to sustain themselves.

Training is provided through structured curricula and standard list of competencies to be gained over the training period, which is recorded through a Competency Skills Log Book (CSLB). This provides a uniform standard and system of measurement even though the training is conducted at different workplaces. Their competencies and skills can be recognised nationally through a system of prior learning and national certification to allow occupational mobility and benefit young people in the long run.

The STAR beneficiaries include disadvantaged and marginalised groups: 50% of the learners are women and about 8% are persons with disabilities. Trainees and the MCPs are trained on workplace safety and health issues and required to observe a “Code of Practice” at the workplace.

Another feature of the programme is the decentralised and flexible approach to programme design and delivery. BRAC selects and clusters the learners by trade and MCPs based on local employment demand and the choice of the learners and their parents. Distance from the learner’s home to the workplace (i.e. MCP’s shops) is taken into account while selecting these clusters. This is particularly important for the young women and persons with disabilities (PWDs) who find it difficult to travel long distances every day from their homes.

Box 9.2. Development of Master Crafts Persons

Master Crafts Persons (MCPs) have a central role in informal apprenticeships as they supervise the apprentice and deliver training based on the Competency Skills Log Book (CSLB). They are selected based on following criteria: experience, location of the workplace, workforce capacity, job prospects for the learners. Once selected, the MCPs receive a 3-day basic orientation. This orientation includes material on: Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBTA), child rights, decent employment, the code of conduct, and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). The MCPs will sign a contract that obliges them to abide by the code of conduct. During the training period, the MCPs receive financial support to compensate for the costs related to the training and complying with the above criteria. BRAC Technical trainers and the MCPs are trained to use the Competency Skill Log Books for the specific trade and prepare the six-month work plan for the learners together using a CBTA approach. This ensures consistency in learning across trades as well as regions.

During the initial implementation phase, BRAC and ILO collaborated to develop skills and knowledge of MCPs. This was “a win-win” situation for both MCPs and the implementing partners and had sustained long-term impacts on the overall project outcome.

Under the STAR programme, the first batch covered training of 500 Master Crafts persons (MCP) and 1000 learners (each MCP to train 2 learners on average). In subsequent batches, about 6 000 apprenticeships under this programme have been trained and about 3 000 MCPs are involved in the program.

After completion of training, BRAC supports the graduates to undertake assessment examinations under NTVQF. Currently, the practical trainers (i.e. MCPs) assess the competencies achieved by the trainees but the assessment from the government’s part is facing bottlenecks due to lack of assessors from the responsible government agency (i.e. Bangladesh Technical Education Board). However, 2 000 trainees have been registered as apprentices under BMET and given certificates.

Source: ILO and BRAC – compilation from selected documents and questionnaires.


The objective of the STAR programme is to develop a model that utilises informal apprenticeships to act as a structured and effective means of creating skilled workers. The initiative also aimed to equip master crafts persons in multiple trades with skills to minimise hazardous work, improve occupational safety and health and link formal and non-formal organisations for large-scale national upskilling and formal qualifications across the country. It was also expected that learning centres/technical institutes and technical trainers for in‐house learning would be identified and supported to be actively engaged in the pilot activities and training.

The groups targeted were both male and female disadvantaged youth, youth from low socio-economic backgrounds and those who had dropped out of school.


The training process of STAR programme is described here.

  • Initial selection of the potential trainees and master crafts persons (MCPs) is based on the selected criteria.

  • Specific trade based onsite technical training is delivered to the learners by master crafts people (MCP) and technical trainers. Trades offered are decided according to area-specific demand.

  • The learners are placed into an apprenticeship under an MCP who provides hands-on training for five days a week. Side by side, the technical trainers provide classroom or theoretical training on basic concepts, introducing tools and equipment, measurement, and works process. Basic English lessons are provided to the learners to minimise their chances of falling behind due to poor communication skills.

  • Learners receive life skills training on occupational safety, health issues, child rights and the pitfalls of early marriage. They are taught to take on a realistic and patient approach in order to adapt to the demands of the market, improving their quality through training and development, and helping them seek employment in markets where there is demand.

  • Learners are also taught the importance of basic money management and financial security. They are enabled to open bank accounts to save their allowances (from BRAC), their salaries (earned from their apprenticeship), and sometimes family savings as well. Once the training is completed, BRAC links up the learners with employers for wage employment. For those who are keen on self-employment, BRAC offers information, guidance and technical assistance.

  • Regular monthly monitoring is carried out by BRAC to check performance and progress of learning. Post-training support is provided to the completed graduates.

Governance framework and delivery arrangements

BRAC is an entity with multiple programmes and funding support and does not have separate management arrangements for STAR, which is located with BRAC’s education programme. As is the case with other programmes, the wider governance framework of BRAC applies to STAR. The Research and Evaluation Division, Monitoring Division, Finance Division and Training Division provide support to all BRAC programmes including STAR.

Budget and financing

UNICEF, ILO, UKAid and AusAid have been the main donors of the programme since its inception in 2012. BRAC has already plans to continue and expand the STAR programme.

Impacts of the initiative

The programme is now operational in five divisional cities, including Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet. About 6 000 graduates (50% girls, 8% PWDs) have completed the training at the time of preparing this report. Of these, 99% have been employed within one month of completing their training, according to the BRAC report. About 3 000 MCPs, many of them owners of SMEs, have received training and support in order to enable them to provide apprenticeship places.

The STAR programme is a highly result-oriented initiative in terms of employment generation, income, and female empowerment. It not only provides enterprise-based on-site technical training to the learners, but also grooms them through soft skill development training to prepare them for the world of work.

A strength of the initiative is its focus on young disadvantaged youth, including men, women and people with disabilities, who are seeking employment. Target groups include school drop outs and young people in the age bracket of 14 to 20 years. Of them, more than 50% are females and 8% are persons with disabilities (PWDs). Particularly for the young females, this programme potentially prevents early marriage which is a major problem in Bangladesh. Following the training, there has been an increase in the income level of the trainees, which helps them to further their careers and improve their quality of life.

Strengths of the initiative

A core strength of the programme was its combination of practical learning with theoretical training to help the learner become more skilled in a certain trade. This facilitates a better transition to the labour market as on-the-job training, following CBTA, has worked very well to ensure learners learn the skills that are in line with the market requirement. This type of training has opened up opportunities for the young learners to transition from lower to higher paid work opportunities.

A further strength has been a focus on soft-skills training, including knowledge awareness, financial literacy and negotiation skills. These skills have been crucial to the holistic development of learners.

Third, in comparison to institution-based TVET model, the apprenticeship model has much more flexibility in responding to the changes in the labour market demand since no institutional set-up is required. Hence, the need for new capital investment for training purposes is modest. The STAR programme also enables a decentralised and flexible approach to meeting the needs of the labour market in each of the five cities. It has a strong focus on furthering development through the ability to adapt to local circumstances. BRAC’s access to local community groups at the grassroots level has allowed the programme to successfully reach out to the girls and learners with disabilities.

The STAR apprenticeship model naturally incorporates market trend to some extent since only those shops, whose services are in demand, survive in the market. Hence, being an apprentice in such a shop has an added advantage. It is thus highly probable that the learner would be a skilled graduate in a trade that is already in demand in the market, which is supported by the 99% employment rate of recent STAR graduates.

A final strength of the initiative is the joint expertise and lessons learnt from the UNICEF, ILO and BRAC. A cross-organisational approach to this programme enabled horizontality that maximised the chances of a successful implementation. The strong management and monitoring capacity of BRAC was also fundamental to the success of the programme by enabling a regular system of monitoring and following-up of training. The training provider’s overall capacity for outreach, access to grassroots levels, and track record of long experience in development work for the poorer groups is a strong success factor.

What was innovative?

The core innovations of the STAR programme is in relation to formalising the tradition of informal apprenticeship and ensuring quality training for the most disadvantaged learners. This provides young people with a definite career path through the recognition of prior learning and potential portability and transferability of qualifications.

The STAR programme was also unique in that it leveraged the knowledge of the market and motivated SME owners to provide training for disadvantaged youth in their own community. This enabled SMEs to directly engage with MCPs and enlist them as partners in programme implementation and delivery.

The initiative also explicitly aimed to create good quality of work for apprentices. This was achieved through a focus on practical hands-on training, particularly for workplace welfare and protection issues such as occupational health and safety and a code of conduct at the workplace.

The programme’s strong local focus that enables flexible implementation at the local level was also a key innovation.

Weaknesses of the initiative

A challenge was in relation to maintaining minimum standards in the workplace. Master Crafts Persons (MCPs) were generally not familiar with formal training arrangements and there was a need for time consuming and intense monitoring to develop their capacity to deliver training in a structured and time-bound training manner. There was also a need for capacity building with regard to respecting the workplace code of conduct and occupational health and safety issues. This was addressed by providing MCP with training in BRAC learning centres and offering them close monitoring and support throughout the training process.

The second challenge was in relation to the traditional social attitudes toward gender roles and production. Because of prevailing socio-economic factors, the labour markets in local Bangladeshi cities are male-dominated and female apprentices are uncommon. Improving women participation in the programme to parity was particularly challenging. Similarly, the inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWDs) proved quite difficult due to the fact they are highly marginalised in terms of education, barriers to mobility, and lack of awareness at community and family levels about special needs. This was overcome by BRAC’s grassroots links, who conducted workshops and meetings to advocate for the inclusion of women and learner’s with disabilities.

Finally, a major bottleneck is encountered in the assessment and certification of the trainees and the cost of assessments. Availability of competency based learning materials in the local language was another constraint because of inadequate translation services. This was resolved by liaison with the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB), the designated authority to provide these services.

Transferable lessons for other non-OECD countries

The programme highlighted that employer ownership, participation and feedback are essential to successful programmes that target informal enterprise. It was also important to utilise a strong and dedicated training provider with a good outreach and strong advocacy capacity, due to the predominantly unorganised nature of the informal economy.

Second, the dual apprenticeship model with a delivery method of combining actual workplace experience and theoretical (or classroom) lessons delivered benefits to both learners and enterprises. This approach is particularly important for the apprentices in the informal economy (usually early school leavers, male and female, and disadvantaged groups) which allows them to pursue potential career progression through the system of recognition of prior learning and issuance of nationally recognised certification. This raises the prospects of increased income and livelihoods.

Third, high level policy support and reform of the TVET system should include pro-active measures and institutional arrangements for the delivery of effective training. Government involvement and backing by providing access for the informal system to the formal system is important to facilitate smooth transition of young people from school to work.

Fourth, there is great potential to deliver programs in the informal economy through a structured training system that feature elements of skills training with workplace improvement and workplace health and safety issues. Engaging with both of these issues can help to create quality employment conditions for young people and MCP alike.

Fifth and final, the apprenticeship system, whether formal or informal, should have a strong focus on inclusion to gain maximum results. This is particularly important from the perspective of poverty alleviation, job creation, gender-mainstreaming and disability inclusion.

Considerations for successful adoption in other non-OECD countries

First of all, strong policy support and the backing of the government at the highest level is important to scale up interventions and link the formal and informal training systems. It is important that the apprenticeship system is linked to national qualifications and certification frameworks, including making provision for the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This is particularly important in areas where informal apprenticeships in SMEs are the primary method of skills development. It is also important to have strong management, supervision capacity and outreach to design and deliver good quality and effective training.

Second, strong advocacy, mobilisation efforts and incentives are needed to generate enterprise and private sector interest and to ensure their spontaneous involvement and investment in various modes of skills training, including apprenticeships. In other words, employer engagement in skills training is vital as we have seen in the case of the two examples here. While legislative reform is important to create an enabling environment, the interest and commitment of the employers to participate in skills training is fundamental to broadening access to apprenticeship.

Finally, gender mainstreaming and inclusive approaches in skills development is a viable option if designed consciously and pro-actively from the start. Results from the two examples are ample proofs of that.


The two case studies of formal and informal apprenticeship training of Bangladesh presented here are relatively new – one started in 2009 and the other in 2012. However, the experience and lessons learnt provide important insights into skills training through apprenticeship.

In case of the formal model (i.e. COEL), it is clear that strong employer engagement in the form of dynamic and committed leadership was key to the programme’s overall success. Institutional mechanisms like the formation of Industrial Skills Councils (ISCs) are effective means of ensuring that employers remain engaged in the vocational education system. Strong participation and engagement of employers in the formulation of policy as well as participation in the TVET system reform process can help to design a demand-driven and inclusive training system that also has a decent work dimension.

In case of the informal apprenticeship example presented here, the main lessons learnt are that it has a strong equity and poverty focus and promotion of decent work principles at the workplace. This approach has an expressed aim on reaching out to the poorer and marginalised groups at the local levels and promoting their access to the formal system from which most of them remain excluded. The involvement of credible, high-quality local partners are key to success.

Lastly, both these examples show that low rate of female participation in the technical and vocational training system (which currently stands at about 24% taking into account both public and private sector institutions combined) can be successfully addressed through pro-active design and delivery of training.


Bangladesh Labour Act (2006), Section XVIII, Dhaka, 11 October 2006.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Report of the Labour Force Survey, 2010-11, Dhaka, Aug. 2011.

UNFPA Country Office for Bangladesh, The Impact of the Demographic Transition on Socioeconomic Development in Bangladesh: Future prospects and Implications for Public Policy, Dhaka, Jan. 2015.

Government of Bangladesh (GOB) (2012), National Skills Development Council (NSDC): Bangladesh Skills Snapshot 2012.

Government of Bangladesh (GOB) (2011), Five Year Plan Document (2011-15), Dhaka.

ILO (2012), Overview of Apprenticeship Systems and Issues, ILO contribution to the G20 Task Force on Employment, Geneva, Nov. 2012Manzur, Syed Nasim Manzur: Crouching Tiger, Paper presented at the 5th World Footwear Congress, Leon, Mexico, 25 Nov. 2014.

ILO (2009), Survey and Assessment of Formal and Informal Apprenticeships in Bangladesh, Dhaka, March 2009.

Islam, Md. Amirul et al. (2014), COEL Industry-led Apprenticeship Project for Leather Industry (2012-14): Tracer Study of the Trainees under the Industry-led Apprenticeship Project, Dhaka, October 2014.


← 1. The TVET reform programme is a programme of the Ministry of Education (MOE) which is being implemented by ILO with the funding support of the European Union (the project operated over the period of 2008-15).

← 2. Government of Bangladesh, National Skills Development Council: Bangladesh Skills Snapshot 2012, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Co-operation (SDC) and managed by the ILO TVET Reform Project. Nine sectors covered by the survey include: agro-food, construction, informal skills, information technology, leather and leather goods, light engineering, ready-made garments, tourism and hospitality and water transport/ship building.

← 3. There is a bit of anomaly between the Apprenticeship Ordinance 1962 and the BLA 2006 and the Amendment of the Labour Act (in 2013) regarding the competent authority to oversee the apprenticeship programme. The 2013 amendment of BLA designates the Chief Inspector of Factories and Establishments as the “Competent” authority to inspect and supervise the apprenticeships. However, BMET is still keeping its previous responsibility for registration, monitoring and certification of the apprentices (both formal and informal). It is understood from the BMET sources that this provision of the labour act will be amended.

← 4. COEL received equipment and funding support from the externally-funded government development projects. It is registered as a “Registered Training Organisation” with the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB). In that sense, it can be termed as a PPP initiative.