A transforming labor market and opportunities for Pakistan in the Gulf
The global labor market has reached a level of excellence where there is no place for generalized, semi-skilled, and unskilled labor. In this regard, Gulf countries are moving even faster than the average global speed.
Living in proximity to Gulf countries, Pakistan is fighting to survive economically. Can Pakistan, while having the baggage of unskilled youth on its shoulders, find space within the challenging market of the Middle East like Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Kuwait’s Vision 2035, Qatar’s Vision 2030, Oman’s Vision 2040, Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, and Bahrain’s Vision 2030?
A cursory look at all these initiatives shows that GCC countries are revamping their economic, social, and cultural structures while holding their values tight. Their visions are based on the fundamental principles of minimizing dependency on traditional sources of income (biofuels etc.), enhancing the construction sector, improving the pharmaceutical industry, offering world-class medical facilities to international consumers, achieving fiscal sustainability, attaining global competitiveness, and expanding private industry manned with international standard qualified professionals. These changes bring enormous opportunities for global youth to find a place and so arises the question: Can Pakistan’s youth fix itself somewhere in the scene?
Just imagine: This is a country with a population of well over 220 million, an official student dropout rate of 44 percent, and less than 4,000 vocational skill institutions to accommodate the numbers of its disenfranchised youth.
- Shazia Anwer Cheema
In changing global realities, even a sanitary worker must have the skills and knowledge to clean and dispose of garbage according to the given manual by social health services. With regards to the construction industry, there are vocational training institutes in Central Asia and Eastern Europe that produce plumbers, electricians, fixers, mixers, wielders and more with one and two-year diplomas. Their skill levels are no less than those of assistant engineers who can read and understand construction layouts, structural design and services laying off drawings. In this environment, can unskilled Pakistani labor compete with the qualified workforce offered by Central Asian and Eastern European countries? The honest answer is no.
Pakistan has a huge bureaucratic structure dealing with vocational training and despite training boards and vocational and technical education commissions, it has awfully poor results with annual youth unemployment of over 1.5 million.
Gender representation is extremely low as only 286 vocational institutes are for women. Just imagine: This is a country with a population of well over 220 million, an official student dropout rate of 44 percent, and less than 4,000 vocational skill institutions to accommodate the sheer numbers of its disenfranchised youth.
The situation is not promising in the professional educational sector either. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) data for the year 2021 shows the country is producing less than 50,000 mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers through universities and colleges, with close to no place in the global educational rating.
Pakistan had once provided some of the world’s top medical professionals to Gulf countries. Earlier, Pakistani male and female doctors, nurses, and paramedical staff had efficient positions in the medical service sector of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman. Now, the situation is otherwise.
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-2021, Pakistan had a total of 116,659 registered nurses in 2020 and 33,000 plus doctors with basic education in medicine. The demand of GCC states in the fields of medical skill force is much higher than Pakistan’s medical institutes are currently producing. GCC states require specialization in the nursing sector such as critical adult cases nursing, oncology nursing, cardiac nursing, emergency nursing, dialysis care nursing, and paediatric nursing, while Pakistan offers only general nursing diplomas.
Since Pakistan is standing too far away from excellence even in the field of the semi-skilled workforce, there is a dire need for value addition and capacity building of the workforce.
A two-day deliberation of all federal ministries held this month extensively discussed the issue of capacity building of Pakistani youth and the prospects of getting help from international trainers/ firms to provide global standard vocational training in Pakistan.
China can be the first player in providing training to unskilled labor in the construction sector because Chinese construction firms are already working in Pakistan on CPEC projects. Germany had been assisting in Pakistan’s vocational training during the 70s, 80s, and even 90s, and can also be asked to invest in labor training.
Experts say crash training programs will work effectively and could bring results within the next four years. They are pragmatic that Pakistan can offer a skilled workforce for the construction industry of Gulf countries within the next three to four years while value addition at the professional level (doctors, nurses, paramedics, IT experts) would take five to eight years. But this can only happen if obsolete curriculums are changed without any delay.
At this point, pessimism is not an option for Pakistan.
- The writer is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media. She can be reached at @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: [email protected]