Saturday March 02, 2024

Investing in people

December 07, 2023

According to a World Bank report issued this year, Pakistan stands behind other South Asian countries as well as most countries across the world in terms of its ability to put human resources to use. The human resource base in Pakistan is badly affected by the lack of education available to people as well as the lack of healthcare and the high child mortality rate. 

The report states that a child born in Pakistan today is likely to be able to achieve only 41 per cent of his or her potential in terms of delivering in the workplace or in other aspects of life. The figures are rather frightening.

The reasons for Pakistan’s failure to develop its human capital need to be investigated. Most of all, what has happened needs to be redone. The reasons why Pakistan lacks the human resources that Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, for example, can command are not very complex. Soon after the country was founded, Pakistan failed to make an investment in developing human capital and it is said that the rulers of the time chose to buy weapons from foreign powers rather than build IITs as India did. The results are what we see on the ground today.

In this picture taken on April 16, 2023, people throng a market area in Lahore. — AFP/File
In this picture taken on April 16, 2023, people throng a market area in Lahore. — AFP/File

Investment from overseas is held back in Pakistan because companies see a lack of educated capable people able to carry out the work demanded of them. This ranges from managerial work at higher levels to simpler tasks such as operating machinery correctly and ensuring high and effective standards.

The question to ask is why Pakistan’s human capital is so far behind that of other countries in the region. Lack of education is obviously a factor, with only around 50 per cent of the country currently literate, even if we keep in mind the manner in which literacy is determined in the country. This usually is undertaken by a person’s ability to sign his or her name or to read a simple newspaper headline. This level of literacy is obviously not enough in today’s rapidly changing age and certainly not sufficient to deal with the technological requirements of a world in which Artificial Intelligence is gaining bigger and bigger hold. Studies suggest that in a few decades from now AI will be carrying out most of the menial jobs in societies leaving only high-level work for humans. And this level of work does not fall within the capability of Pakistanis.

The reasons for this vary. In the first case, the fact that over 40 per cent and nearly 50 per cent of children born in the country suffer stunting and a consequent lack of brain development holds us back in many ways. This is something we need to understand; if we are to develop as a country, we need to go beyond merely reducing poverty and increasing the per capita income of households and instead also building the working power of people. Humans, after all, are the biggest resource of a country. This is particularly true of Pakistan, which has a huge youth bulge and a huge demand for jobs from those who will reach maturity in the coming decade.

How this is to be achieved now is a task for policymakers at all levels. In the first place, we need to invest far more in education and healthcare. The under-five mortality rate for Pakistan is far higher than that of other countries in the region. Providing basic care to mothers and indeed all individuals is essential to gaining from them the capability they should be able to put into life. Apart from wellness, we also need to ensure quality education for people and measures to ensure that this is made available to everyone across the country.

If we do not succeed in this, we will fail in many other fields as well. We simply do not have people able to use the machines that should be a part of their lives if they are to venture into fields using new technologies and sophisticated methods. Because of Pakistan’s lack of human capital, much investment moves to Bangladesh, Vietnam or other countries because they have better ability to deliver according to the standards set by multinationals. The reality is that, since its inception, Pakistan has acted as a state which does not realize that people are the most vital asset and the resource that it needs more than anything else. Possessing weapons and other tools cannot change this reality.

We also need to think of how the massive youth population of a country which continues to grow at a terrifying pace is to be accommodated in the years to come. Training in various vocations as well as education on computer literacy and other means is important so that they can develop their abilities as workers and persons able to move ahead in life. At present, we do not possess these abilities. The curriculum at our schools does not encourage the development of many kinds or indeed of any kind. It is rooted in the past and has barely moved beyond the colonial era.

We need to think about how to deal with the crisis and all that it entails. In the first place, people need to be equipped with the kind of skills that other nations can offer to the world. India is an example, with top Steps Programmes from around the world recruiting from its IITs to take graduates of the Silicon Valley and possibly to allow them to return home and set up corporations and industries which can employ still more people and give them a base for life. We need to consider how to catch up. The mistakes in the past have been made; we now need to move beyond these and set up a vision for the future.

It is important this vision recognizes that investment in human resources is essential to the future of any country. We have not yet realized this or recognized the significance of people in the cycle of any country. People make the difference as far as the delivery of high quality work and other input is concerned. Pakistan simply does not have qualified workers able to fit slots that now exist in industries everywhere. Major schools, major corporations and major development bodies find it extremely hard to find personnel who can deliver high-quality work and meet the basic needs that are required to make that particular entity a success. This has to change.

We must understand why it has become necessary to recruit from overseas and to bring people home to work in our country. We need to develop our own person-power and, of course, the 50 per cent of the population who are women must be included in any scheme about human capital and human resources so we can move into the future smoothly and with facilities that benefit our people rather than acting to hold them back because of the lack of healthcare or the lack of education that they receive in their lives.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: