It is evident that youth bulge — 67 per cent of the population below the age of 30 years and 32 per cent of the population between the active age of 15-29 years — is a policy issue beyond chanting slogans for political gatherings and pushing them to show just as head counts. Policymakers say that youth bulge can only be transformed as a dividend if reflected through public policy as a serious discussion and part of planning. The Punjab Economic Forum 2017 is a welcome example with its focus on youth as a skilled human resource. Simultaneously, equal need is to put forward the question of holistic youth development which encompasses economic, social and political empowerment.
The high-level Punjab Economic Forum allowed a great deal of input and discussion by nationally and globally renowned economists, experts, academia and policymakers to gear up the economic growth and development at the policy level. Urban Unit and the Government of Punjab hosted the event, the significance of which can be gauged from the fact that it was attended by the chief minister, governor, and finance minister of Punjab and other relevant government officials. The key themes were inclusive and sustainable economic growth, natural endowments and their management, human and skills development, financing of public goods and public-private partnership, industrial and urban development and CPEC.
Human and skills development focused on youth economic development by linking it to the Punjab growth strategy of 2018 that claims creating one million quality jobs every year and training two million skilled graduates in the province, and meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. According to it, labour productivity spurs economic growth and developing countries are far outpaced in that sector.
Globally emerging trends also are in compliance with youth development, as one of the primary agendas, creating unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. Today’s world owns 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, and the largest youth population within that majority belongs to 48 least developed countries. Pakistan is on that list.
In this era of youth population and as a young country the Economic Forum has aptly raised voice for youth economic development to ensure strategic economic growth in the country and province. The role of economists now lies in talking of youth employability, skills development, technical training and education, economic generation models and economic growth. Pertinent to this is the parallel side of it, how the economic growth contributes to the social outlook. We have to establish a conscious link between economic and social development of youth by bringing in research, relevant curriculum development, gender equality, mainstreaming and young girls participation in order to produce quality human resource. Infrastructure definitely increases exposure, mobility, accessibility but to make it progressive is another important facet. The forum gathered indigenous policy input by experts and must be seen as an enormous effort.
Having such a forum is an eye opener within a security state like Pakistan but it is time we stopped confining economics only to business development. It has to be inclusive by developing social linkages, minimising urban-rural divide, addressing minority discourse, emancipating young women, timely visualising social inequalities, managing conservative small-medium entrepreneurship and so on and so forth.
The forum has put forward discussion on youth employment linking it to the policy framework as one of the main pillars of youth development. We still need to amalgamate it further by having the same level of policy discussion on other pillars of youth development. Addressing youth is a cross-cutting combination of rights and skills, quality input and a developing framework. A policy shift can convert youth bulge into a dividend by providing critical, holistic approach and linking it to emerging global trends of youth development.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2017.