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Skill development & employability

Muhammad Javaid

PAKISTAN is facing numerous economic and social challenges. Employment generation and poverty reduction today is a top priority in the socio-economic development agenda of the country. Recently introduction of poverty alleviation programme ‘Ehsas” and initiating the housing plan which eventually generate employment opportunities, are indeed pointer towards Government’s resolve to tackle unemployment and poverty. Poverty and unemployment has a strong correlation because most of the people draw their livelihood from employment. The population of Pakistan is characterized by high growth and an increasing number of youth enter the labour market: more than 2 million per year. Youth have less prospects of finding gainful employment due to lack of any specific skill. This young and dynamic lot can be an asset if appropriately trained. With effective government policies for their education and training, these youth can become a powerful force for economic development. Unfortunately, hardly small percentage complete secondary education and a very small percentage acquire employable skills. The characteristics of employed youth is also not encouraging. Two-thirds of the employed labour force is in what is classified as vulnerable employment, which includes unpaid or low paying jobs in informal sector and self-employment. Unemployment particularly in youth is considered source to encourage terrorism and other street crimes. Pakistan’s population is growing at a rapid pace. At the moment, workforce is growing faster than economy which is leading to unemployment, in particular of young people.
The necessary jobs for the new entrants into the labour market cannot be created only by skills development. Efficient macro-economic measures are required for economy growth but such measures are required strong political will, rational priorities, planning and implementation. It require economic development based on the recognition that TVET sector can considerably contribute to such development. The deficiencies in vocational education and training system are hampering employability. The employability of the workforce is crucially linked with the level of vocational and technical competence. Further, with every step towards industrialisation and modernisation of production units and work premises, the demand for vocationally trained and technically educated manpower rises. Majority of youth belongs to agriculture sector therefore lifting rural youth out of poverty and subsistence farming, among others, is crucially linked with vocational and technical competence. Other sectors also need to enhance the skill and training competence to increase the probability of employability within country as well as overseas. The TVET sector can increase the number of trades and workers that the industry can absorb. Such increases cannot be achieved by just setting higher targets for pass-outs but can be achieved by a variety of accompanying innovative measures as follows: Firstly, the TVET sector must continue more proactively to design training content in close cooperation with the industry so that pass-outs meet the industry’s current and future requirements in terms of quality and numbers.
Training should be conducted to inculcate work values and attitudes in TVET pass-outs. Employers expect from their recruits professionalism expressed in quality, efficiency, creativity, adaptability, commitment, responsibility and accountability. In addition, training in basic skills like literacy and numeracy and training in soft skills like communication skills and problem solving skills should be conducted more frequently in TVET to improve the low educational level of the workforce and increase the employability of pass-outs. Another measure to improve the employability of youth will be to include pre-vocational training at elementary level (Class/Grades 6-8) and technician level trades at secondary level (Class/Grade 9-10). The establishment of horizontal and vertical mobility between general education and TVET and within the TVET system can attract additional youth in TVET institutions. Secondly, training should regularly and consistently be offered in packages that include employment services that connect pass-outs with opportunities for employment and self-employment.
Thirdly, measures should be designed and implemented to support the development of small businesses, of which many use basic production processes that require only a low level of skills. The substantial growth potential of these businesses in the formal and informal sectors can be set free by advice and support for improving production processes that will increase business volume and hence create the need for additional employees. Training of low-skilled workers who are already employed and training of unskilled or semi-skilled owners of small businesses should form part of such strategy. Finally, system should be refurbishment to recognise and certify the skill obtaining from “Ustadi-Shagirdi” (Teacher-Pupil). Private sector recognise that the person trained in “Ustadi-Shagirdi” is more competent than the trained from the organised TVET institutions. This attitude emphasis to analyse the both systems and make compatible. It needs to bring “Ustadi-Shagirdi” in the main stream of TVET system by introducing certification and recognition enabling to get job in local and international markets. Many employers are not aware of the TVET sector and the possible benefits that TVET can provide for them. A more proactive promotion of the TVET sector can overcome this problem. Matching the supply of skilled manpower with the demand of the industry is another major challenge because information is scarce, vague and not reliable. Many donor agencies are engaged in the sector to provide support for thousands of apprentices and vocational education institutions to enable them to meet the demands of the labour market.
—The writer is ex-Chief, Planning Commission of Pakistan.