UNEMPLOYMENT problem is emerging as a serious issue day by day. How serious and alarming is the situation can only be gauged from the large number of applications that are received against any vacant post both in the public and private sectors. It is not merely an economic but also a social and political problem. Socially, unemployment causes frustration, unrest and rise in criminal activities. That is why maintaining or attaining a high employment level is considered to be one of the foremost macroeconomic objective in every country. The commitment of the present government to seriously address the need for employment generation is a propitious opportunity to implement strategies for generating employment opportunities in the country. It is necessary to generate sufficient employment opportunities for all new entrants to the workforce as well as to absorb the current numbers of unemployed and underemployed. It is also pertinent to distinguish the government role, is Government be a jobs provider or job opportunities generator.
Employment generation or creation is the process by which the number of job opportunities in the economy increases. It often refers to government policies envisioned to reduce unemployment. Job generation or creation programs may take a variety of forms. For example, introducing friendly investment policies, easy procedures for investment, skill training according to market needs, develop industrial sites, provide capital resources, support entrepreneurial activities and the development of new small businesses, provide counseling and intensive Technical and Vocational Education & Training (TVET) programs for those interested in establishing own businesses, comprehensive guidance providing information to start a small business along with rules and regulations applied. On the other hand a government may provide jobs in its own institutions, but it is also linked with development activities and government resources. Unfortunately the perception in our country is that government should provide jobs.Unemployed are looking towards government for providing jobs in public institutions instead of availing the existing opportunities in economy to get themselves economically active. No one looks willing to utilize his skills and available opportunities for self-own business. The reasons may be insufficient capital, information, entrepreneurial skill etc. Self-owned business not only provide self-employment but also be source to create jobs opportunities for others. In fact mindset of our youth or unemployed persons need to be changed. Another dilemma in our country that every degree/diploma holder even trainees from TVET institutes are only interested in seeking white-collar or government jobs. Though white-collar workers fare better than their blue-collar colleagues in terms of wages and work environment. But they (except government employees) suffer from job insecurity, lack of social protection, and long working hours (without the benefit of overtime pay). The contract employees are deprived of statutory entitlements. As the job market is constrained and unemployment among the young cohort high, educated young people often have no choice but to submit to the whims of the employers.
Worldwide white-collar workers are facing issues due to structural changes in the global economy and production system. Globalization has shifted blue-collar jobs to less-developed countries in the last three decades and now increasing automation is leading to a rise in the number of white-collar workers. The corporate world has come up with tactics to squeeze white-collar labour. Hiring on contract through third-party service providers prevails. Contract workers earn less than permanent employees therefore, the contract employees are being preferred over permanent. Our youth desires white-collar jobs whereas the youth in other countries prefer to start their own businesses. There are examples of many countries how they utilize the opportunities in economy to be economically active. There are examples from China and other countries. It is encouraging that the government is coming up with a comprehensive scheme under which the youth will be given loans up to five million rupees to start their own businesses. This indeed is an important initiative to help the youth for self-reliance which will also help promote small and medium enterprises and create job opportunities. However, providing loans are not enough, the government should also prepare a comprehensive informative business guidance program to encourage the youth in which they can start entrepreneurship. For example, recently China has made an agreement to import around 300 items from Pakistan without any duty. The government may publish list of such items and facilities offered to increase the production of these items. Similarly to reduce the balance of trade a list of import substitute items may be prioritized with incentive to encourage local production.
The other aspect need attention is overseas employment opportunities. Pakistan is one of the biggest suppliers of labour force at all levels i.e. skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled. Skilled labour comprises only two per cent of total labour export and mainly consists of engineers, doctors, accountants and business managers. The steps are required to enhance the skill development and technical education & training in the country to improve their employability prospects, opening up opportunities in key emigration markets. We may learn from Chinese’s adage (proverb) which says “If you want to help someone, teach him to catch fish instead of giving him fish”. Hazrat Ali had said, “The skilled man is never hungry.” The Chinese understood this. Wish we could come too. So we have to expand the TVET and mobilized youth by providing friendly investment environment to be an economically active citizen.
Finland is ranked first in the world’s education system, Japan is second and South Korea is third. They have begun to “technicalize” their new generation instead of chasing “degrees”. You will find the most elementary schools in those countries. In world education system is being revamped. A huge vocational institute is currently in Singapore and only about 20% of the children spend time in the classroom while the other 80% spend time playing with technical education. The government should emphasise to generate employment opportunities rather than jobs provider. The lot of potential and job opportunities are available in the country needs to explore and coordinate to turn in productive. One year of PTI government is completed but nothing is seen to handle this chronic issue. The people are expecting revolutionary steps to handle unemployment issue instead of routine continuation of the past.
—The writer is ex-Chief, Planning Commission of Pakistan.