World Youth Skills Day will be marked on July 15 (Thursday) across the globe including Pakistan to encourage youth.
Pakistan is considered to be the fifth-largest young country in the world. Around 63 percent population of the country comprises youth aged between 15 and 33.
A greater proportion of young people is considered to be a major economic driver for growth and progress.
But are they well-equipped with knowledge, good health and skills, along with rights and choices, to translate their demographic power into substantial social progress? Statistics provide a grim tell-all tale of how this youth bulge comes with a downside in a country like Pakistan where youth unemployment rate stood at 8.5% - one of the highest in the region.
With the lowest female labour force participation rates (LFPR) in South Asia across all age groups, Pakistan is presented with the daunting task to generate additional 1.3 million jobs each year for the next five years to fill this gap.
“Government has been actively working towards engaging youth and building their skills so they can make the best of the future employment opportunities,” Tayyaba Nisar Khan, focal person to prime minister on National Youth Council (NYC), told The Express Tribune.
The high-tech skill set includes scholarships on courses on Artificial Intelligence (AI), graphic designing, and other IT related courses.
However, the staggering number of young ‘unemployable’ people has also laid bare the deep gaps within the socio-political edifice of the country.
Nida Shahzad, a tech entrepreneur from Sindh, believes that while the country’s educational system produced enough graduates, the freshmen lacked the required digital and soft skills to meet the conditions of a job market that is almost entirely dependent on technology.
But the problem does not just call for an economic reckoning – usually phrased in obscure jargon – which puts the blame squarely on crippled social programmes, which inevitably fall short of achieving the tasks. Social norms and cultural taboos equally pose obstacles to any attempt to find a solution.
“Girls are not allowed to go out and get educated,” lamented Ruqaiya Komal Agha.
Ruqaiya, who also runs a not-for-profit organisation for vocational training of women in Balochistan, said the economic issues faced by women reveal the “weak sites” in the socio-cultural structures that keep the women from financial independence.
“Lack of education, high mortality rate and child marriages were the core issues women are facing in Balochistan.”
“It’s too hard to convince their families to allow their girls to go to school or acquire technical institution,” she added.
Athar Ahmad, another tech entrepreneur from Mardan, fears that the glut of young population could easily turn into a missed opportunity to attract international investors if not utilised properly.
“We have to put this [young] population in a meaningful way by promoting entrepreneurial ecosystem."
He stressed that the younger lot has to have entrepreneurial skills right from the primary school.
Zanaya Chaudhry, a transgender activist and rights activist, said the searing economic conditions in the transgender community were far more deep-rooted "because the community has been rendered completely invisible in almost every sector".
"Due to the lack of general acceptance for transgender people at all the levels of social hierarchy, many are compelled to adopt easy incomes i.e. begging, dancing and sex work."
“We have to give them right to education, empower them with skills, and provide job opportunities instead of ignoring them," she said.
She cheered up government's initiative to open the first school for transgender in Multan.
"It is a welcome step as isolation is not the solution. We have to be mainstreamed with parallel efforts to sensitise the cis heterosexual people."
Activist Joshua Dilawar from Lahore, representing minority youth, told The Express Tribune that minorities are facing several challenges, including access to quality education, quality healthcare services and employment opportunities.
Dilawar said the failure of successive governments to recognize the potential of early youth investment has resulted in a situation where there has been very little improvement in social indicators.
He suggested that "if we want to strengthen the religious minorities of Pakistan, we have to invest in them especially in young people to have proper skills, knowledge, tools, capacities and education".
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