With a population of nearly 200 million, out of which 60 per cent are below the age of 30 years, Pakistan shows promise of significant opportunity. In every person who can become part of our workforce lies the potential for growth.
Paradoxically, it is also the land of challenges. The fiscal year 2015 saw the highest rate of unemployment the country has experienced in 13 years. Each person who stands unwaged today accounts for a collective challenge. Therein lies the onus on us to equip our youth with the requisite skills for gainfully employed.
Our youth wants better lives. Yet, more often than not, the opportunities they get are blue collared. If the surface were to be scraped, occupational classifications and resultant social attitudes are a major impediment. This is a challenge that has grave social and economic repercussions, which are highly underrated.
A majority of our youth does not have access to quality education at the graduate level. Economists equate this with a low per capita income. The number of universities keeps increasing in Pakistan; sincere well-wishers see that as the answer. Yet, the number of our unemployed youth continues to grow.
For our young women and men, being part of the country’s skilled labour force is not the first choice, but the last! When they see fate as having shut all other doors of opportunity on them, they consider going in for learning a skill. Being a plumber, a coal miner, a motor-mechanic or an electrician is what they become, as a last resort, not by choice. Most of those who work on the cars’ tyres or work as carpenters say this was not their first choice, and they had imagined a life less ordinary for themselves.
Historically, art, literature and any form of mental work has been preferred over manual work and this thought process persists today. The irony is that certain forms of arts and crafts made by hand are appreciated, and craftsmanship as a skill is highly admirable. Yet, the person behind this profession is not celebrated enough.
The challenge lies with us as a society. We have an inner resistance to the idea of doing jobs that require wearing a uniform. We prefer a suit and tie, pretend that is not a uniform, and respect jobs that use the mind and not the hands.
Looking at Pakistan’s economic tribulations, skill development is extremely important for us. The market has to be aligned to low cost skills development. But for this, a sense of dignity and pride in doing such work must be inculcated in society at large.
Our dilemma is that we do not take sufficient pride in being part of Pakistan’s skilled labour force. Things would start looking up if we as a nation took pride in vocations, as a means of affording more Pakistanis, opportunities towards upward social mobility.
Pakistan’s youth are potentially our biggest dividend, but if not employed could end up becoming the weight that bogs the economy down. Will all of them get into universities and get a degree? And even if they do, will they all get absorbed into the job market?
Educator Booker T Washington once said that no race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
In my organisation, in order to inculcate the spirit of mutual respect and empathy, we are undertaking that one day every month, the management staff will wear uniforms of the students of vocational training. The ability to identify with another person and relate to his or her challenges is the only way this polarisation in society can be bridged.
Societies grow and thrive by recognising and owning the mutual dependency among all strata and professions. This symbiosis requires a culture of dignity and respect for all professions. It is time that we give the deserving respect to people in the field and in the uniform.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2016.
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