SKILLS are the currency of the future and for Pakistan to advance and remain relevant in the global economy, its citizens need a variety of skill sets. Currently, not only does Pakistan have an ever-increasing skills gap but even the most educated people have only an abstract understanding of what makes one relevant in the job market.
Given the uneven and scattered socioeconomic development in the country, the skills gap is sizeable and increasing even as newer technological developments and professions continue to emerge around the world. Pakistan’s skills gap is impacted by two key factors: limited investment in skill/education and a poor understanding nationally of what skills/professions should be invested in.
The current literacy level of the country is estimated at 62.3 per cent.This means that more than 60 million Pakistanis are unable to read or write, creating a large segment of our population that cannot even be considered for jobs. They will be limited to poorly paid hard labour, unable to sufficiently take care of themselves or be utilised to advance the economy at peak levels. Out of the 62.3pc who are considered educated and capable of being skilled in different paid professions, a large number is inadequately skilled or have qualifications in professions that are no longer in demand or are saturated.
For instance, let’s examine Pakistan’s IT sector, which critically requires skilled people for the sector to grow. Between 2021-2022, member companies of P@sha, (Pakistan Software Houses Association) had 20,000jobs that needed to be filled but there were not enough skilled people who could have been hired. According to P@sha, out of 25,000 IT graduates, only 10pc are employable meaning only 10pc have the knowledge and skills to perform the job adequately. So, jobs are available, but they are scattered, and the country just does not have enough trained people to fill the roles. This means that our economy will continue to be at high risk and miss out on opportunities for growth. The level, type and quality of skills that citizens have has a direct impact on a country’s economy — our people are simply not skilled enough and it is because we have not prioritised skill development.
To plug the gap, national and provincial targets must be aligned.
Failure to recognise that the world has changed and will continue to evolve is one reason. It is also the ‘safe mentality’, ingrained by the previous generation into the current working generation, that champions traditional ways of making an income, including through the doctor/bureaucrat/engineer route that is keeping even the most educated and aware people from upgrading their skills or choosing new professions. However, for the new generation of Pakistanis to survive, they will have to take calculated risks and explore other professions where they are not only in demand but will also remain employable in the next decades.
The steps we can take nationally to close the skills gap in the country start with aligning national and provincial policies and targets. Priority should be given first to increasing basic education in the least developed areas, followed by identifying areas that have a skills shortage — for example, professional soft skills. As we do this, we need to ensure that women who are around 48pc of the population are encouraged and offered the opportunities to gain these skills and that they both benefit from and contribute to this.
Moreover, there are two types of skills that are required — technical skills, for example, the ability to code, write, or design, and professional ‘life skills’, such as emotional intelligence, leadership and communication skills.
The way forward to closing the skills gap may seem immense but the path is clear: by adapting a targeted strategy that addresses the gaps on a provincial level while keeping in view the unique developmental stage of each area and synching it with national priorities, we can close this gap.
For example, Punjab is the country’s most developed province and Balochistan, in comparison, the least developed; both will vary when formulating the skills policy for the two — for example, people in Punjab may require upskilling ie updating their core skill sets with new knowledge and tools, while in Balochistan, the focus will be on skilling people in the first place and raising awareness about new jobs and professional opportunities available for them to pursue.
Closing the skills gap will require increased monetary investment in vocational and training institutes, which in the long run might work out for Pakistan, because vocational training done effectively can cost less in terms of money and time when compared to generalised university degrees. Which is just what our young, unskilled and hungry-for-jobs population lacks. To survive in this world, closing the skills gap is imperative for Pakistan.
The writer is a global communication expert & founder of Womensouthasia.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022