Apprenticeships: a forgotten qualification

Despite introduction of new disciplines, most of our students still consider medicine and engineering to be the ultimate professions

If you take a survey of secondary school students, asking them whether they have any knowledge of ‘apprenticeships’, many will simply answer in the negative. Most would not even know what an apprenticeship means.

Even though technical education and institutions have existed in Pakistan for decades, the inclination towards such courses has been limited.

Most of our young learners dream of becoming doctors, engineers or dentists. Even those who are unable to do so refuse to change their professional trajectory. Instead of studying courses having practical utility, they push ahead with higher qualification in conventional subjects like physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology

Such qualifications are completely disconnected from our industrial and employment sector. Resultantly, these graduates struggle to land jobs.

This is evident from our employment statistics. According to the Pakistan Employment Trends Survey, 2018, conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among graduates is far higher than the overall unemployment rate.

The overall unemployment rate in Pakistan during the past decade rose from 5.1 per cent to 5.7 per cent. However, unemployment rate among graduates rose from 5.3 per cent in 2006-07 to 16.3 per cent in 2017-18. The report says that unemployment among female graduates rose from 9.7 per cent to 41 per cent in 2017-18 from. The unemployment rate among male graduates was 7.3 per cent in 2017-18. Unemployment rate among intermediates was at 11.7 per cent in 2017-18, while under-matric jobless rate was 6.4 per cent.

These statistics reveal that higher education is not a guarantee of getting a job in Pakistan.

Despite the fact that there has been an increase in the number of institutes offering emerging disciplines such as GIS, space science and remote sensing etc, most of our students have refused to move away from a ‘90s mindset’.

There are a large number of private tuition centres, which are always there to cash in on this trend by promising ‘cramming solutions’ to ensure that a student gets admission to an engineering university or a medical college.

Over the last couple of decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of young students due to ever increasing population. This has led to immense competition among learners to fight for limited places in engineering and medical colleges.

A majority of these learners tend to attend private institutions to be better prepared for the entrance exams and to eventually secure a place at a reputable professional university.

It is very unfortunate that there is very little career and vocational advice available at this level. This results in many of these learners ending up in blind alleys.

Only last year, the whole country seemed to be in high spirits over unconfirmed reports of huge hydrocarbon reserves in our territorial waters. However, the drilling finally stopped after no such reserves were found. For a country so intent on finding oil beneath the waves, it is really troubling to see that no public sector university offers a course in hydrographic surveying.

Meanwhile, there have been huge changes in the educational systems in other countries e.g. UK and Germany. There is growing pressure and investment to get the young people onto the employment ladder to meet the need within skilled sectors e.g. construction, IT and health sectors. The local businesses recognise their importance and have been collaborating with the governments to ensure that the skill-gap is filled.

A key recent change has been the introduction of technical qualifications post GCSE (primary education) in the UK in the form T Levels starting in September 2020.

A ‘T Level’ qualification will be equal to 3 A Levels and will involve class-room-based learning and “on the job experience”. It is the industry placement, which will provide learners the skills and experience to get into skilled employment.

Learners will also be required to gain knowledge and understanding of the subject area and then apply the knowledge and skills so gained to different situations. In addition to this, the learners will be required to sit in an exam and work on an industry project.

This offers a far more rigorous approach required to develop personal, problem-solving and technical skills than the equivalent traditional qualifications.

Streamlining the technical qualifications into a single fundamental model with consistent content, material and delivery can help us train Pakistani students to fill a number of gaps in various sectors including construction and health services.

By making the right investment in technology (i.e hardware and software) and with the right support from local employers, Pakistan will find itself in a position where it is able to meet the future challenges using its own skilled labour.

It is also important that learners are given the skills they will need to apply in solving real-world problems unlike the conventional delivery involving theory only, where learners get hand-outs to memorise and then replicate the same in the exams.

Many of Pakistan’s current challenges in developing skilled and employed youth stem from the historical structure of education, which has not undergone any reforms to address these challenges.

The writer has an MSc in Satellite Positioning Technology from University of Nottingham. He is an Associate Fellow of Royal Institute of Navigation and technical member of Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors. He is currently working as a lecturer at Dudley College of Technology

Apprenticeships: a forgotten qualification