Youth skills development became a global agenda in 2014, when the UN General Assembly declared July 15th the World Youth Skills Day. According to an ILO publication, 73.4 million young people were estimated to be unemployed in 2015, which was expected to increase by 2017 in most regions. Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than older persons and are continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater inequalities in the labour market and an insecure education-to-work transition.
In Pakistan, the government has launched aggressive initiatives to meet the skills development gap. These include the Prime Minister Youth Skills Programme, Punjab Skills Development Fund, National Vocational & Technical Training Commission (NVTTC) and Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA). But then why do youth aspirations remain unmet? Why is there a continuous brain drain? Why are young people still idle, unemployed or underemployed?
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the unemployment rate of the youth till 2015 was 6%, while the Institute for Policy Research quoted that 5.3 million youth were unemployed from 2013-15. However, during this period 1.4 million jobs were created, resulting in 100,000 young people joining the workforce. By the end of 2014-15 the number of unemployed workers was 3.6 million.
Despite such a critical overview, Pakistan envisions meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Goal 4 of the SDGs focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Target 4.4 calls for an increase in the number of youth and adults with relevant skills. Goal 8 focuses on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. This means greater awareness of and discussion on the importance of technical and vocational education and training, along with development of other skills is crucial.
Reasons for inefficacy at the national level are structural unemployment and a gap between the skills that workers seek and the skills demanded by employers. Hence, existing systems are failing to address the learning needs of young people. This not only impacts the economy but also hinders the transition to equitable and inclusive societies.
Despite the entrepreneurial dividend of TEVTA and NAVTTC, a recurring issue has been its relative unattractiveness. Technical education is often placed as ‘second rate’ education because it contains orthodox style of teaching and learning, and low ranking occupations, such as plumbers and electricians, which are looked down upon. There is a social divide between A, B and C class categories of professions, which is dangerous and responsible for youth idleness and professional apathy. There is no concept of learning soft skills.
Ignoring aptitude is another alarming factor that results in the failure of most of the skills programmes. These programmes do not select pupils on the basis of their aptitude and instead induct randomly to give away stipends to underprivileged youth. The indicators to measure success of the programme are largely seen by how much money is dispensed through a programme in one year to a certain number of youth. It never focuses on following up with graduates to identify how many got employed, to what extent linkages to the job market are developed and how far is it adding to the entrepreneurial growth.
To develop a better understanding of these aspects and other related challenges, rigorous interventions need to be taken. Researchers should meet practitioners and link education and training in the labour market, among other things. A comprehensive effort is required to ensure a skilled human resource and fulfilling the commitments made to global agendas.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2017.