This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive
PAKISTAN is fortunately placed at an envious demographic position as one of the “youngest nations on Planet Earth” with nearly 70% of the population below the age of 35. In fact, the peak youth share is around 21% within the ages of 15-24. The advantage of a young population should enable the country’s planning managers and policymakers to prepare a visionary agenda taking into account the benefits, potential, and value of this young force.
PAKISTAN is still unable to enjoy the demographic dividend that this young population can bring. The pathetic educational system in the country does churn out graduates but most of them are not worth having within the working environment. Technical training centers are set up all over the country managed by the various provincial authorities. At the same time, organizations such as Skill Development Councils have played a defined role in providing skill development and vocational training opportunities to the youth. The Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Youth Development Program is a visionary and practical initiative undertaken for the youth of Pakistan. Moreover, the employment opportunities for the youth, at this moment in time, are relatively very few, very uncertain, and very low paying. In fact, the absorption of youth in the labor market has been limited to a large extent.
PAKISTAN is in the midst of the unrest being generated by the sense of deprivation and dejection faced by the youth. The young people are entering or ready to enter the job market and are waking up to the stark reality that jobs are scarce, that they are not properly trained to deal with the available jobs, and that they are not sure of the tenure of the position if they are lucky to land a job.
PAKISTAN is at a crossroads when it comes to handling the youth. The benefits of the demographic dividend are not possible if the youth do not enter the labor market, but then if there are no opportunities to become economically active then the youth would be stranded and lost at sea. This here is the challenge. Youth unemployment is endemic and continues to rise. The rhetorical statements of politicians assuring the youth that jobs would be available become stale news once these politicians are safely ensconced behind the portals of power. The dissatisfaction among the youth increases especially when they are exposed to the electronic media that is showing them a different world and in the process creating wants and desires which cannot be satisfied.
PAKISTAN is also subject to other negative outcome of the frustration of these young people. These youth become readily available fodder for extremist forces who take advantage of this deplorable situation. At the same time, many youth, especially in urban areas, have become unwilling partners in crime and this is substantiated by the phenomenal increase in street crimes and petty burglaries. The proliferation of drug use among the youth is a matter of serious concern too.
PAKISTAN is also beset by other factors that have impacted negatively on the economic viability of this country. The billions that are spent on the Global War on Terror, the burgeoning inflationary trends, the pressure on the currency, the increasing cost of petroleum imports, the physical infrastructure handicap, the dependence on borrowings from the multilateral agencies resulting in a dictated economic policy framework, the disconnect between the provinces due to parochial and ethnic compulsions, the political instability, and the excessive non-developmental expenditure, have not only been demoralizing but have seriously affected the viability and sustainability of trade and industry. Unemployment has become the Number One cause of gloom and doom among the populace.
The Way Forward:
PAKISTAN government must plan and promote the National Agenda for Youth Resources (NAYR), in consultation with industrial and trade associations, WEBCOP, economists, and educationists, etc. There is an imperative and urgent need to focus on the various modalities and concepts that would enable the formulation and implementation of the NAYR. The major areas would be:
- Ensuring literacy
- Provision of skill development and vocational training
- [Alternatively, entrepreneurship development]
- Internship and practical training
- Placement opportunities
PAKISTAN is endowed with talent and resources, both natural as well as human. There is a high priority requirement to indulge in out-of-box thinking and prepare this NAYR. The major areas enumerated above can be further elaborated as follows:
PAKISTAN policymakers have to revisit their educational priorities. A sad reality is that the allocations for education in the Federal as well as Provincial budgets diminish every year. The dismal environment in the government-owned schools has affected the proper schooling of children and this has been transformed into a horrific foundation for the youth. At the same time, most of the private schools profess to provide superior education but the cost to parents is alarming, Of course, the educational institutions set up by social or community-based organizations are playing a paramount role in providing decent education. It is proposed that trade and industry associations, chambers, as well as large enterprises must be mandated to set up educational institutions on their own or must financially support organizations such as Citizen’s Foundation so that quality education becomes universally available.
PAKISTAN government must ordain TEVTAs that have been set up in every Province to initiate projects on Private-Public Partnership basis to modernize, upgrade, and renovate the existing technical and vocational training institutions and also must prepare and plan centers and curricula in consultation with WEBCOP and Skill Development Councils as well as trade associations so that the Pakistani youth can enter the global economy as a well-trained and tested professional.
PAKISTAN has a functioning Higher Education Commission and this organization must assist and direct the various educational institutions to develop alternate programs to introduce and impart knowledge-based education to inculcate entrepreneurship in the youth of Pakistan. This would enable trained or skilled youth to become owners rather than depending on employment.
PAKISTAN has not been successful in ensuring that most of the present technical institutions have a working relationship with trade, industry, or the service sectors whereby programs could be planned to provide on-job-training as well as practical working knowledge of the concerned skill. There is also no system of mentoring the youth. This gap has to be reduced and it is essential that the trainee is able to obtain this hands-on facility and resource.
PAKISTAN political government must ensure that it is essential to take on board the chambers and associations to come up with a systematic and pragmatic program that would encourage the members of the associations and chambers to tap into the pool of these trained or skilled youth and utilize them in their establishments. However, it is pertinent to note that market-demand skills should be taught to the youth rather than depending on outdated or routine curriculum.
Essential Areas of Employment:
PAKISTAN policymakers have to accept that the objective of NAYR would be to ensure that training is provided in sectors that conform to the requirements of the global economy as well as addressing the cultural, traditional, and national dynamics of the country. It would be beneficial to the nation, to the individual and to the employer.
PAKISTAN has a strong agriculture base. The youth should be trained in operating equipments that are imperative for mechanized farming. This would increase productivity as well as streamline the cultivation of various crops. Training in proper usage of fertilizer, seeds, and other inputs would surely make a marked influence on the economies of the rural areas. At the same time, there is immense scope in fruits and vegetables, right from plucking down to the eating. The fruit and vegetable farms can provide much needed employment to the young people.
PAKISTAN is also increasing its share in the services sector. Educated youth can fill the demand for human resources in various fields in the services sector. Call centers, software programming, hotel and restaurants, sales representatives, cell phone repairs, food catering, enumerators, security services, event management, and transport drivers are areas where formidable job opportunities can be created.
PAKISTAN is going to witness a boom in construction, especially in low-cost housing. There is a backlog of over nine million housing units that have to be built to cope up with housing demands. Private sector is ready to provide training for trades associated with the construction industry. Skilled operators are required for bulldozers, dumpers, loaders, and other construction equipment. BBSYDP does provide short term training for masons, plumbers, electricians, floor tilers, painters, etc. At the same time, there would be ample job opportunities in cement, paint, sanitary fittings, cables, fans, geysers, tiles, and other nearly 40 industries due to the housing boom. There are not that many skilled workers at present to cope up with the upcoming demand by the housing sector.
To conclude, PAKISTAN can get out of the economic morass if concerted efforts are made with passion and with sincerity. It is also incumbent upon the youth to be serious in acquiring the skills and knowledge to prepare for a career in their chosen fields. Needless to mention, a working youth will generally not resort to fraternizing with extremist elements nor would the youth subscribe to unethical and objectionable activities if one is busy with his vocation. It is only then that Pakistan will greatly gain from and benefit from the demographic dividend deriving from the large potent youth population. The Great Poet Allama Iqbal expressed his admiration for those young people who are achievers:
Mohabat mujhe oon jawano se hai
Sitaron pe jo daaltay hain kamund
(The writer is Member Steering Committe BBSYDP and Former President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce).