Mapping youth skill needs

Are we counting our skilling numbers right? If not, why?

Mapping youth skill needs


wenty-nine percent of Pakistan’s population officially comprises the youth as defined by the Government of Pakistan – 15-29 year olds. This makes a whopping 65-70 million people. Sixty-three percent of the population is aged under 30. This figure represents the incredible youth bulge as the biggest conversion opportunity for Pakistan to be productive. “Skilling teachers, trainers and the youth for a transformative future” is the theme for this year’s World Youth Skills Day. The theme broadens the target groups for education, skills and training; implicit in the theme is a notion of lifelong learning – supporting SDG 8 for decent work, economic growth, livelihoods, personal success and fulfillment. Is the potential and the reality captured well in the official formal administrative data trails? If not, how can various players’ work be coherently projected? Why does the data reflect under-estimated fragmented metrics? Where does such data originate? Does it incubate in different buckets managed by different ministries and their work streams who may or may not share a common communication space for youth skills in Pakistan?

According to some estimates, 54 percent of South Asian youth will leave school without the necessary skills to get a decent job in the next decade (Global Business Coalition for Education). There is a clear mismatch between the skills workers can offer and the skills that are in demand, leading to structural unemployment. Whilst the formal sector takes time, there are multiple non-state actors emerging in Pakistan to fill the gap between demand and supply through multiple options. But are those being recognised? The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has cautioned that about 200 million unemployed, hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis, need mitigation through non-traditional ways of job creation with systemic shifts.

My experiences in the field have been an eye opener. On a recent visit to Lower Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan, I found many teachers who were engaged in exciting programmes of online training for professional development. They were also taking courses to supplement their earning capacity. I thought they were the last-mile school teachers living in rugged terrains. I was proven wrong. I discovered that one of them was sharing her “other identity“ as an area/ regional manager for Amazon. She was earning a handsome amount through successful sales. When I asked her how she learnt about it, she said: “I was curious and soon I was in deep training to be an Amazon salesperson. The rest is history“.

In a remote, inaccessible school in Pakistan, Nazia decided to live in the school building along with three other colleagues who could not commute daily to teach adolescent girls they were committed to.

Now our young teachers are directly inducted in government schools through merit-based hiring where they undergo one year induction programme online as per the Elementary and Secondary Education Department (E&SED) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa policy. During the Covid-19 closures, more than 450,000 teachers across Pakistan received Microsoft licences for digital learning, navigating LMS with confidence, becoming adept at accessing online skills of choice for professional upgrades. Many are embarking on a training highway themselves for new skills and earning as well. They have been super successful.

Were these young teachers outliers in Pakistan or are there many in this category not captured by the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) or TEVTAs etc? The government TVET training institutions operate in their own comfort zone and orbits without knowing what is happening in the larger Pakistani eco system for youth and skilling. The official figure in the prestigious Economic Survey of Pakistan FY 2022-23, quotes 143,000 trained teachers. For a 70 million target population, sadly, this is a sorry state of what is happening in youth skilling; we can do better.

Teachers make up the largest workforce in Pakistan of almost 2 million professionals. We need to shake off the image of under-qualified and poor-attitude ustads and ustaanis. They are now younger, better educated and motivated professionals having multiple skills, including digital professional development and training. Nazia is a Grade 16 teacher but also an Amazon area manager. She knows sales; she knows how to mobilise her young students in Grades 8-10 for youth leadership and climate change clubs; and she is able to confidently showcase her work globally for the Schools 2030 Global Forum.

Nazia, and many like her, can be the poster teacher for this year’s theme for Global Youth Skills Day officially, as the face of teacher, trainer and youth who is digitally empowered – full of resilience and confidence. I have worked with 50,000 adolescent girls and youth for second chance programmes for learning and earning in south Punjab. Transformative programmes of the ITA, like Siyani Sahelian, Aasman Say Batein and Uraan, have upgraded ordinary to extraordinary young women through enabling conditions. We offered technology-based peer teaching, leadership training to young girls in middle grades and those completing their matriculation and post-secondary education. We cannot forget when some gathered to share what else they were doing beyond academics. “Madam, we have Facebook sales pages for bridal wear; beauticians making webpages; our families respect us now as we supplement family incomes, generating orders from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 per month. And yes, we are completing our academics as well – we learn and we earn.”

Service providers like AMAL Academy that began in 2014 have offered a range of skills in preparatory programmes (3 months) to over 10,000 graduates in soft skills for successful placements (84 percent) acquiring the right attitudes for livelihoods and enterprise in Pakistan.

It is in this landscape of learning that skills have to be propagated deep. No matter what the education levels, skills today mean not merely vocational certification but also life skills/ soft skills and the capability to manage mental health issues.

Today the government is offering financial inclusion and digital programmes at scale through the State Bank of Pakistan’s National Institute of Banking and Finance (NIBAF) with many partner organisations targeting women and girls.

We need national mapping of skills for youth in more holistic and innovative ways to crowd-source partners and metrics of skilled youth in both traditional and non-traditional areas.

Let hundreds of flowers bloom. Let us not choke enterprise and skills, especially when the national economic growth is under stress.

The writer is the CEO of Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi, a Pakistan Learning Festival founder and an Education Commission commissioner. She can be reached at

Mapping youth skill needs