Jobless youth

Published December 26, 2021
The writer is a research fellow at IBA Karachi.
The writer is a research fellow at IBA Karachi.

LAST month, in an act of immense desperation, a father of four ended his life by jumping off the third floor of a Karachi shopping mall. Such events are not uncommon in the peripheries where financial troubles cause youngsters to take their own lives. They are now reported in cities as well. They showcase the growing lack of opportunities and frustration among the youth.

The PIDE recently held a conference on the state of opportunities in the country to analyse government claims of low unemployment. The latest Labour Force Survey reports the unemployment rate at 6.9 per cent. This may not sound alarmingly high but there is much to discuss behind the numbers. According to LFS, unemployment is highest among the15-29-year age bracket, indicating a lack of and barriers to entry-level jobs. Of the total unemployed, 21.52pc have no formal education while 78.48pc are literate, indicating that educated youth are more likely to have difficulties finding jobs.

Read: The crushing pain of joblessness

The highest wage quartile for non-formal education is Rs18,000 and Rs24,400 for those with high school education, indicating low returns on education. There’s also the issue of underemployment — those who are trained to do better jobs but are forced to take low-paid/skilled jobs due to the unavailability of jobs commensurate with their training. Underemployment is glimpsed in the high number of applications received against positions such as gardeners, drivers and naib-qasids, including from those with MPhil degrees. And finally, the army of those who are not in employment, education or training, called NEETs. As stated by economist Hafiz Pasha, the number of idle drifters is disturbingly high — 21 million.

There are ways the government can help youth other than offering non-functional civil service posts — for example, skill mapping and counselling as in Denmark. When Danes lose their job, they find another faster than anywhere else. This is surprising because Danes receive 80pc of their previous earnings for six months after becoming jobless. Theory tells us that high welfare states make labour markets inefficient but that’s not the case for Danes. Even in the long term, Denmark has the lowest unemployment rate among OECD countries because the government identifies and addresses the root problem. CVs must be submitted within two weeks of being unemployed, so that the government can find gaps and retrain. Payment can be stopped if individuals don’t try hard enough to find a job or don’t keep up with adult-education programmes. Massive investment in monitoring and retraining shows the government’s commitment.

There are ways the government can help the youth.

In Pakistan, the success of Kamyab Jawan remains to be seen, but its framework has no plans for one-on-one or group job counselling for youth. It is possible to build ‘youth centres’ at the district level with the collaboration of the provincial and federal governments. The centres’ aim should be to collect unemployment data, find gaps, and provide one-on-one counselling. This will not only help map skills and identify gaps but also contribute to building longer-term human capital. A cost-benefit analysis of this idea could give better insights.

Secondly youth incomes can be improved through training. Latest PSLM data reveals that only 2pc of the under-25 population has attended or is enrolled at a vocational/technical training. A study on the effects of apprenticeships and vocational training on 1,700 workers in 1,500 firms in Uganda confirms that such trainings enhance sector-specific skills, employment rates and labour market outcomes. However, SMEs lack funds to support training. The government can a) maintain/publish periodic data on SMEs including the number of people they train (b) subsidise SMEs on providing youth apprenticeships and certifiable skills rather than giving wage subsidies on youth hiring. The current British Council-NAVTTC partnership supports apprenticeship in organisations based in Islamabad, GB and AJK only. The scope needs to be expanded manifold.

Thirdly, for youth employment, the transition from college to market must be smoothened. High school curricula must include school-to-work transition and pre-vocational courses focusing on employable/soft skills which are in high demand. This would help those who are entering the labour market, particularly the lower skilled market sections.

The following government interventions are suggested: a) Skill mapping and one-on-one counselling for problem identification and retraining; b) subsidising SMEs for training, instead of hiring, youth; c) inclusion of pre-vocational courses in high school.

Much more can be done to improve employment figures, including boosting the private sector, creating a robust environment of entrepreneurship, improving exports, and improving the access and quality of internet. All the government needs is a plan that works and a will that lasts.

The writer is a research fellow at IBA Karachi.

nizsara@gmail.com

Twitter: @SarahNizamani

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021

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