Empowering the country’s youth should be Pakistan’s national priority
More than 60 percent of Pakistan’s population of 210 million is below the age of 35. If they are trained and equipped with skills to gain employment in domestic and international markets, a major chunk of the country’s population can work toward enhancing the nation’s industrial productivity, competitiveness, domestic production and exports, as well as significantly boost the inflow of foreign remittances.
However, this population dividend will not last forever, and if left unskilled and economically disengaged, they are likely to add to the depressing and ever-increasing statistics of those engulfed in poverty. Furthermore, some of them could turn to anti-social activities. The country must take advantage of this window of opportunity being provided by its greatest asset — the youth.
Numerous examples across the globe, including from both developed and emerging markets’ economies, have demonstrated that Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) offers the shortest and swiftest path to productive youth engagement.
It is estimated that less than 52 percent of the workforce in the US, 68 percent in the UK, 75 percent in Germany, 80 percent in Japan, and 96 percent in South Korea have undergone formal skill training.
In comparison, less than 5 percent have undergone similar training in Pakistan. This reflects the fact that in Pakistan, the TVET sector has, until recently, been largely ignored with paltry investments coming in from both the public and private sectors. It suffers from limited training capacity, outdated workshops and laboratories, obsolete training equipment, archaic teaching methods, and antiquated curricula. Therefore, it has been unable to meet the skill training requirements of domestic and international markets, both in terms of quantity and quality.
There are an estimated 1.8 million new labor market entrants each year. Add to those the approximately three million youth whose skill-set is not tapped into during formal schooling but nevertheless need to be trained if the nation is to take advantage of the demographic dividend.
Therefore, the development of skills of approximately three million trainees is required even if we preclude youth entering into other avenues of tertiary education. Against this urgent requirement, there are only an estimated 400,000 seats available in 3,740 institutes with 18,000 teachers in the formal TVET sector. If the entire cohort of 3 million youth were to be provided skills training — based on traditional training methods — it would require at least 45,000 more institutes and an additional 200,000 TVET teachers to be inducted into the system. The urgency of the requirement of revamping the TVET sector and the financial constraints calls for innovative methods to be adopted — both in terms of skills training as well as ensuring multiple sources of funding.
Some of the urgent measures, including enhancing the TVET training capacity in a relatively short period of time, can be achieved without expanding the existing infrastructure. These initiatives could include optimizing the utilization of existing facilities, for example, by starting double shift training programs; enhancing the role of private schooling systems in the TVET sector; engaging universities into the TVET system for high-end technologies; implementation of apprenticeship laws across the country; implementing the system of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL); introducing distance/online learning systems for freelancing; exploring public-private partnerships for training opportunities as well as setting-up vocational workshops/institutes in madrassas or Islamic seminaries that could also play a critical role in capacity enhancement and ensure participation of youth from all segments of society.
Foreign remittances have remained one of the main planks of Pakistan’s economy, and a steady flow of a highly-skilled Pakistani workforce is essential not only for the sustainability of remittances, but also to optimize the benefits of this precious stream of foreign exchange for the country.
While the above proposals can alleviate the capacity constraints in the short-term, given the scale of the challenge, there is a need to invest in expanding the existing TVET infrastructure. The current training capacity is not only insufficient in terms of capacity but also limited in terms of providing the quality of training that national and international job markets require. Several 100 billion rupees of investments are expected to be required over the next couple of years. While the government must play the critical role of a catalyst in providing the enabling impetus, there is also an urgent need for the productive and meaningful involvement of the private sector in meeting the challenges.
An active involvement on part of the industries in design, delivery and placement of graduates could be beneficial — not only in ensuring the provision of employment opportunities to the youth — but by pushing the industry to be more productive, competitive, and efficient, too.
In countries such as Germany, the UK and Australia, the entire TVET system is owned, managed and propelled by their industries. This happens due to a realization that skilled workers are the most important instruments to ensure increased productivity, industrial efficiency, and quality assurance of their products. In order to help develop a similar ecosystem in Pakistan, the government (at both the federal and provincial levels) can explore possibilities for public-private partnerships in setting up industry-based TVET institutes, which can be jointly operated/managed by the sectors and the government.
In the South Asian context, countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal have made significant strides in terms of revamping their respective TVET systems with enhanced focus on industry engagement and have thus moved from the old traditional supply-led system to a demand-oriented Competency Based Training (CBT) mode.
The demand-driven system ensures a systematic and institutional engagement of industry in the overall TVET system through varied platforms. Pakistan’s current government, in consultation with the private sector, is piloting the CBT as part of the recently-introduced National Vocational Qualifications Framework (NVQF) and other industry-led initiatives.
The focus is to shift training from an overwhelmingly supply-driven approach to being demand-driven with the strong involvement of the formal private sector. It will, in due course, rest on the employers to identify and help design courses to provide skills and knowledge that they would readily employ. A partnership between the industry and the institution is beneficial in terms of employability, enhanced workplace productivity and enterprise competitiveness, and therefore translates into overall socio-economic development.
Furthermore, foreign remittances have remained one of the main planks of Pakistan’s economy, and a steady flow of a highly-skilled Pakistani workforce is essential not only for the sustainability of remittances, but also to optimize the benefits of this precious stream of foreign exchange for the country.
Accruing benefits to Pakistani youth from gainful employment in the international market is another pressing reason to focus on imparting appropriate skills to youth for the international labor market. However, a majority of the Pakistani youth work in the international markets as unskilled workers and earn less than a third of what a skilled worker earns. Moreover, due to the increasing demand for a highly skilled workforce in the international market, we are rapidly trailing behind our international competitors.
It is therefore essential to establish a robust TVET institutional mechanism which is not only capable of producing skilled workforce in accordance with international standards, but is also adequately resilient and adept at constantly updating itself in consonance with the demands of the international job market. The country today has a government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan that is cognizant of these challenges as well as the opportunity that the youth offers. More importantly, it is determined to equip them with the right skills in order to fulfill their enormous potential and contribute toward the development of a Naya (new) Pakistan.
— Javed Hassan is a graduate of Imperial College London and an MBA from London Business School. He is an investment banker who has worked in London, Hong Kong, and Karachi.