Wednesday May 18, 2022

Catalyst for growth

January 16, 2019

While the world is embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Pakistan is gearing up for the industrial development entailed in the upcoming phase of CPEC. The envisaged development of new industries through joint ventures and the relocation of industries from abroad promises enormous opportunities to our youth, bringing home exciting possibilities in the maritime, agriculture, services and manufacturing sectors.

However, the importance of building industry-academia linkages and promoting research and development activities for economic uplift cannot be overemphasised. Intensive interactions between companies and academic institutions, including universities and research institutes, bring together different expertise from different innovators that are often considered to be advantageous for innovation performance and sustaining economic growth.

It is, therefore, imperative that our vocational training centres and academic institutions are able to provide efficient and skilled manpower required to shoulder the task of transforming Pakistan into the future industrial and trans-shipment hub of the region. Similarly, it is vital at this important juncture that the youth understand and take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to them.

In a recent study commissioned by the Centre of Excellence on CPEC on the employment trends (Employment Outlook of CPEC, 2018), it stated that CPEC has added over 75,000 jobs to the economy since the beginning of 2013. By the end of 2018, 67 percent of the workforce in energy projects were Pakistanis and while 75 percent of workers in infrastructure projects were from Pakistan.

In the near term, the hiring outlook is expected to remain upwards, predicting that most employment will be in the manufacturing, energy, finance, trade, maritime (including fishery industry), oil and gas sectors, increasing to another 1.2 million jobs by 2030. In this regard, the early establishment of CPEC special economic zones (SEZs) is key for employment-generation.

In the industrial cooperation phase and with the start of the ML-1 project, it is believed that the requirement of a skilled workforce – like accountants, surveyors, project managers, business developers, engineers, heavy machinery operators, pilots/tug operators, port operators, railway engineers, business process managers, construction managers, automotive engineers, quality and safety specialists, tourism operators and foreman/supervisors – will increase manifold.

Industrial development is likely to take place in two stages. In the initial stage, it is expected that the SEZs will be occupied by labour-intensive industries where human resources with limited skills will be employed. This will then be replaced with modern high-tech industries that will require workers to possess a combination of high-tech skills, stamina, multi-language proficiency, and a degree/ diploma.

While there may be a shortage of skilled labour for the expected industrial relocation in the SEZs, it is also an opportunity that individuals seeking employment should exploit the opportunity and brace themselves accordingly with required expertise and skills. In the not-so-distant future, new technologies will transform the business landscape and job market. The younger generation, therefore, needs to focus on understanding technology, culture and skills to undertake the task.

In a discussion on future employment trends during last year’s Boao Forum for Asia, which I happened to attend, panellists predicted that a large number of jobs in manufacturing and finance are likely to be squeezed through with 4IR. Therefore, as we prepare for the industrial development in the short term, it is equally important that we mould our education system in the long term to equip our human resources with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a fast-transforming international job market.

In the next 10 years, Pakistan has the potential to be a land of opportunities – as China was in the early 1980s – with new enterprises and business leaders taking over the helm of a modern, confident and strong Pakistan. All we have to do is harness the potential of our youth and promote skills development, which is vital at this stage to achieve high-productivity growth.

For this to happen, Pakistan can emulate Chinese development programmers focused on industrial technology research and adopt a major focus on developing modern vocational education and training (VET). Over the past four decades, China has developed the largest VET system in the world that focuses on promoting research and development (R&D) and provides students with a broad-based education designed to prepare them with additional skills to face latest technological challenges.

Students and academia need to remain abreast with latest trends and learn to use artificial intelligence to make decisions. Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba, believes that in the future there will be competition over creativity rather than knowledge. We need to have an education system that pays attention to quality; promotes creativity; and develops abilities, such as quick problem-solving, teamwork and critical-thinking.

The success of CPEC and the industrial development that it includes depends on the productivity of our workforce. This depends on a dramatic improvement in our education system. The complete dividends of CPEC can be yielded best when we are able to develop strong academia-industry linkages, promote R&D, and give way to creativity and innovation.

The writer is a project management

specialist and a faculty member at

various universities.