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Quickest way to boost foreign exchange earnings

M Ziauddin

BOOSTING manpower export is perhaps the quickest way to boost foreign exchange earnings by way of remittances. It is unfortunate that after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hugely successful initial efforts to export manpower to the Gulf, so little attention has been paid by successive governments to this endeavour. The export of manpower is on the top of economic diplomacy initiatives for the governments of India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh, whose inward remittances amounted to $70bn, $28bn and $15bn respectively in 2014 and they have been rising exponentially. But Pakistan’s earnings through remittances are stagnating at around $ 28 billion for a number of years. India is world’s largest recipient of worker remittances, followed by China at $64bn.
On the other end of the spectrum, the apathetic attitude of our governments is demonstrated by the recent memoranda of understanding signed with Qatar. With a major infrastructure push under way in Qatar in preparation for its hosting of the football World Cup in 2022, it is today perhaps one of the biggest importer of manpower among the regional countries. Not so, it seems, for Pakistan. Out of a total estimated global pool of 247 million migrants, the total strength of Pakistan’s diaspora has been barely growing over the last several years from its strength of around seven million. Bangladesh has nine million emigrant workers, India around 25 million. The biggest hurdle in the way of boosting our manpower exports is the increasing demand in the importing countries for manpower holding certificates in such skills as gardening, carpentering, electricians, plumbing and low-level hotel services like bell-boys etc. And now there is this increasing demand for manpower well-versed in primary high-tech know- how. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is said to be causing a large-scale decline in developed countries in some roles as they become redundant or automated. According to the 2018 Future of Jobs Report, 75 million jobs are expected to be displaced by 2022 in 20 major economies. At the same time, technological advances and new ways of working could also create 133 million new roles, driven by large-scale growth in new products and services that would allow people to work with machines and algorithms to meet the demands of demographic shifts and economic changes. In addition, such measures should be complemented, it is advised, by strategic rethinking on how work is regulated and which areas of job creation could enhance societal benefits. A recent white paper suggests that countries should work to increase public and private investment in three areas: people’s capabilities, institutions and rules related to work, and sectors that are poised for growth and that benefit society, including care, education, water, energy, and digital and transport infrastructure.
The World Economic Forum provides a platform for such alliances to urgently deliver new skills for today’s workforce as well as designing education for the future workforce. The Closing the Skills Gap initiative serves as a platform to focus fragmented actions within one overarching mission to address future-oriented skills development, while at the same time supporting constructive public-private collaboration on urgent and fundamental reform of education systems and labour policies to prepare workforces for the future of jobs through country-specific programs, global and regional exchanges of best practices, and global business commitments. These efforts have resulted in a global network of public-private task national task forces in India, South Africa, Argentina and Oman, in addition to several global partner companies pledging to reskill or upskill 17 million workers globally, exceeding the 2018 goal to help 10 million workers by 2020.
According to Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum (We need a reskilling revolution. Here’s how to make it happen—published in the WEF’s newsletter dated April 15, 2019) as the world faces the transformative economic, social and environmental challenges of Globalization 4.0, it has never been more important to invest in people. He says, valuing human capital not only serves to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to respond to systemic shifts, it also empowers them to take part in creating a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world. Education is and will remain critical, he adds, for promoting inclusive economic growth and providing a future of opportunity for all. But as the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution create new pressures on labour markets, education reform, lifelong learning and reskilling initiatives will be key to ensuring both that individuals have access to economic opportunity by remaining competitive in new world of work, and that businesses have access to talent they need for jobs of the future.
To proactively realise the benefits of these changes, the author suggests, at least 54% of all employees will need reskilling and upskilling by 2022. Yet only 30% of employees at risk of job displacement from technological changes received training in the past year, and those most at risk are often the ones who are least likely to receive any retraining at all. He is talking about the state of employment in rich countries which would mean the state of employment in emerging markets and developing countries would be even worse. Therefore, countries like Pakistan whose dependence on foreign remittances has become crucially important would need to arrange crash courses for training their manpower for future job prospects. The author says that creating a reskilling revolution will require investment. For example, transitioning 95% of at-risk workers in the United States into new jobs through reskilling may cost more than $34 billion. Yet the private sector could today only profitably reskill about 25% of those workers, suggesting a need for business collaboration, govt investment and public-private collaboration to lower costs and reach scale.
“If businesses work together to create economies of scale, they could collectively reskill 45% of at-risk workers. If governments join this effort, they could reskill as many as 77% of all at-risk workers, while benefiting from returns on investment in the form of increased tax returns and lower social costs including unemployment compensation. When businesses can’t profitably cover costs and governments can’t provide the solutions alone, it becomes imperative to turn to public-private partnerships that lower costs and provide concrete social benefits and actionable solutions for workers. “As we transform education and labour markets, it is also imperative that we take into account the specific effects on various groups.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.