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February 27, 2019

The world of work

Opinion

February 27, 2019

The increasing scope of technology in the life routines of people has significantly impacted society, workforce, production and the economy.

With a growing world population, phenomenal human development, increased market for technology-based products, mechanised processes of production techniques and technology-driven marketing have created a huge global demand for skilled workers for specialised jobs. This element of modern life has spurred numerous deliberations and reports on the future of work at leading organisations like the OECD, the World Economic Forum and ILO etc. The need for a skilled labour force has huge implications for education and training systems of all nations worldwide, and especially of those with larger proportions of younger populations.

Pakistan, with 64 percent of its population under the age of 30 years, needs focused policy attention to understand and effectively respond to the changing and challenging future world of work. Even a cursory look at the very basic analysis of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector in the country highlights the urgency for policy attention and implementation action towards meaningful workforce development effort. As quoted in the TVET Policy 2018, public-sector provision of the TVET attracts only 0.7 percent of young people in the age group 15-24 years. The situation is exacerbated due to serious issues of capacity, quality, relevance and governance in the sector documented in this policy document.

The majority of those completing TVET courses, especially from most of the public-sector institutions, fail to acquire skills required by an even technologically underdeveloped labour market in Pakistan. National Skills Strategy and Competency Based Training frameworks do exist on paper. These documents will remain just decorative emblems from the foreign assistance programmes until the government of Pakistan accelerates its effort to translate its vision into competent and proficient graduates of TVET institutions who meet the skills competency requirements in country as well as internationally.

The finance minister and his team’s efforts to attract foreign investment in the country and the CPEC initiative of the previous government will bring prosperity in the lives of Pakistan’s citizens only when people are prepared to take advantage from these opportunities. Young people living in the midst of mountainous terrains, desert expanses, urban slums and remote villages will need more comprehensive packages for skills development programmes. They need not only institutions providing high quality demand-driven training programmes in their localities but also enhanced pre, during and post training services.

The enhanced services package should include accessible and interesting communication materials about technical and vocational education. These materials should aim to: inspire interest in skills development initiatives; provide information about the immediate and long-term benefits for trainees and their communities; present a broader picture of ensuring enhanced local and national prosperity; portray options and pathways for personal growth; and encourage women’s participation.

This social advocacy and information sharing campaign should not be on the format of usual public messages or political statements. This service should be launched on creative outputs of established communication professionals and creative writers from the popular media.

Along with high-quality demand-driven training in specific trades, training institution should focus on the development of professional attitudes, work ethics, enterprise, and 21st Century skills as part of each course. This broader training package is essential to enable young people in finding or creating employment for themselves and succeeding in it. The foundational skills of teamwork, communication, problem solving, self-awareness, personal goal setting and financial literacy should be part of any education or training programme – and more importantly of those preparing young people to thrive in the world of work.

Providing training and preparing young people for work needs to be supplemented with opportunity of linkages, networking, placements and career counselling for post-training course of action. Pakistan’s TVET Policy, National Skills Strategy and other policy documents emphasise upon industry linkages and employers’ active role in design, execution, and evaluation of TVET programmes. However, concerted effort and clearly-laid-out implementation plans are required to establish these important connections.

The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission has established some Sector Skills Councils for private-sector participation in policy alignment and enhanced employment opportunities for skilled youth. This initiative should be vitalised through accountability for targets and objectives of these councils along with regular interaction of broader stakeholder groups, public events and productive linkages.

One important issue of skill development sector in Pakistan is low female participation. Some factors behind this situation are: unfamiliarity and misunderstanding about TVET programmes, ignorance about post-training opportunities, misconception about the capacity of girls and women, social attitudes, absence of women-specific policy framework and lack of visibility for female role models. This leads to low female participation in the labour force, especially in the formal job market. Untrained women in informal economy are more vulnerable to exploitation.

The relevant ministries and departments of federal and provincial governments need to take specific measures to convince families and attract women to join skills training programmes. While aiming to achieve sustained economic and social development, maintain global competitiveness and respond to changing world of work, Pakistan cannot afford to waste the potential of half of the country’s total population.

The energy of the youth bulge, untapped potential of the female workforce, and promise of economic activity in the country are strong and interlinked handles for steering Pakistan out of current economic crises. To accelerate genuine change in the life trajectories of its citizens and drive inclusive and sustained development in the country, the incumbent government will need to work simultaneously and creatively on these three elements of national progress.

The writer is a researcher and international development professional.

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