In recent months, Pakistan has faced a disconcerting economic challenge as inflation reached an all-time high of over 46 per cent. Such a surge in prices, while alarming, should not be viewed in isolation but rather within the broader context of Pakistan’s economic landscape.

To address this pressing issue effectively, we must delve deeper into the interconnected challenges that our nation faces, including mass emigration and a burgeoning youth population.

One of the most concerning trends in Pakistan is the mass emigration of highly skilled professionals. In the first half of 2023 alone, an unprecedented 800,000 Pakistanis left the country, with a significant portion comprising doctors, nurses, engineers, IT experts, and accountants. This exodus of talent not only represents a brain drain but also raises questions about the underlying factors driving this phenomenon.

While a variety of factors contribute to this emigration, including political instability and a desire for better opportunities abroad, it underscores the urgency of addressing the domestic economic landscape. The departure of such skilled individuals has a profound impact on our economy, not only in terms of human capital loss but also the potential contributions they could make to our nation’s development.

Simultaneously, Pakistan grapples with a burgeoning youth population. Currently, 64pc of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years old, and by 2030, our total population is projected to reach around 280 million, with 100 million being young individuals. The demographic composition of Pakistan, often referred to as a “youth bulge,” carries both potential promise and peril for our economy.

The optimistic outlook suggests that the entry of a large number of educated youth into the labour force could lead to a surge in productivity, thereby facilitating faster economic growth. Moreover, a lower dependency ratio, as the working-age population grows, can result in higher national savings and increased investment. This potential demographic dividend can be a catalyst for Pakistan’s economic development if harnessed effectively.

However, there is a crucial caveat to this narrative. The youth bulge’s positive impact is contingent upon the strength of the economy to absorb these new entrants into productive jobs. The demographic dividend can easily turn into a demographic nightmare if there are insufficient job opportunities and a lack of economic stability.

To address these challenges, it is essential to comprehend the root causes of unemployment in Pakistan. Factors such as rapid population growth, inadequate access to quality education, economic instability, and a shortage of job opportunities contribute to the persistently high unemployment rate.

The consequences of this issue are far-reaching, encompassing poverty, social unrest, rising crime rates, and a decline in overall economic growth.

Considering these challenges, it becomes evident that Pakistan must prioritise a “skills-first” approach to navigate its economic woes effectively.

The latest Labour Force Survey by the Pakistan Board of Statistics indicates that the youth population represents a significant portion of our nation. Their absolute numbers are growing faster than the overall population, emphasising the urgency of investing in their skills and employability.

Switzerland provides an exemplary model for Pakistan to consider. It is a global leader in vocational education and training (VET), characterised by its on-the-job training and close collaboration between vocational training institutions and industry. This “gold standard” VET system has not only equipped individuals with practical skills but has also created a seamless transition from education to employment.

To replicate this success, Pakistan must strengthen the links between technical training institutions and industry players. Collaboration can enrich the curriculum, making it more relevant to the job market. Additionally, it ensures that what students learn in the classroom aligns with industry practices, reducing youth underemployment.

By providing young people with competitive skills for self-employment or construction jobs, vocational training can become an appealing choice for the youth while addressing the job market’s skill shortages.

In conclusion, Pakistan faces a multifaceted economic challenge characterised by soaring inflation, mass emigration, and a burgeoning youth population. However, these challenges also present opportunities for growth and development, if managed effectively. A “skills-first” approach through vocational education and training, as exemplified by Switzerland, holds the key to harnessing the potential of our young population. By investing in our youth’s skills and employability, we can secure our economic stability and prosperity, ensuring that Pakistan’s demographic dividend becomes a catalyst for positive change.

(The writer is the Executive Director of the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission).

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2023

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