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Human resource development in Pakistan

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Saud bin Ahsen |

Pakistan has been facing massive challenges in the socio-economic sector for many decades. Consequently, ranking on the Human Development Index has remained low. Low GDP growth, high population growth, high level of poverty, less per capita income, illiteracy, and unemployment has compounded the problems. Apart from distracted and perplexed policymaking, poor governance has remained a key issue and has had a negative impact on social service delivery.

Various education policies were announced but none of these policies gave importance to vocational training or making it part of the curriculum. Most of the polices only focused on formal education and on imparting knowledge rather than combining it with skill development as well. Human resources development, which is a critical ingredient for developing a well-trained workforce and creating a moderate and stable Pakistan could not get due attention and priority.

A number of initiatives have been taken by various governments in the form of establishment of various polytechnic institutes across the country as well forming of provincial authorities like TEVTA.

There have been various factors for the low priority for vocational training. Demand and supply mechanism and culture have played an important role. Skilled labor like plumbers, electricians or mechanics may earn more but in our society, they will live with a lower social status. Besides, since the Government has remained the major employer, vocational training was hardly required in those sectors.

Moreover, agriculture being one of the main sectors of the economy also does not require skilled labor. Although service has acquired a major share in the economy, there is a lower requirement of highly skilled labor. The industrial sector has not shown growth in the last few years hence the Government did not prioritize the skill training and hence a vacuum is present in this area.  

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Another important factor is that Pakistan is still at a factor-driven stage. Basically, there are three stages of development- factor has driven, owing to available of factors like agriculture, cheap labor; efficiency driven best example is China, and innovation-driven best example is the United States.

Various education policies were announced but none of these policies gave importance to vocational training or making it part of curriculum.

When Pakistan moves to the second stage, then the demand for the skilled worker will increase and thus the supply of skilled labor will get priority to match the demand, only then vocational training will get priority and better quality of technical and vocational training will lead to higher performance and productivity of trained graduates. While there has been devolution of power after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, it is also a major challenge in terms of policy making, poor governance, service delivery and capacity related issues. This aspect has a critical impact on the technical training in the provinces.

In order to get maximum benefit out of the demographic dividend and to avoid civil unrest due to potential unemployment of a growing youthful population, Pakistan needs to pay immediate attention to the quality of its human capital.

One reason for high youth unemployment across the world – and particularly in developing countries – is a growing mismatch between the supply and demand for skills. The issue is not a new one and has always remained at the heart of policy discussion at the very highest level in Pakistan.

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A number of initiatives have been taken by various governments in the form of establishment of various polytechnic institutes across the country as well forming of provincial authorities like TEVTA. Similarly, cluster-based technical training institutes (with or without the help of government) have also been established from time to time. But similar to other South Asian countries the skill gap in demand and supply of labor has remained quite persistent.

One reason for high youth unemployment across the world – and particularly in developing countries – is a growing mismatch between the supply and demand for skills.

It can be argued that this skill gap is created by both supply side and demand side problems. On demand side, there is a negative social bias that has often prevented young people, from enrolling on vocational track programmes and it is regarded as a ‘second-choice’ education option.

People usually associate vocational training with low academic performance, poor quality provision, and blocked future pathways. Similarly low quality of teachers in such institutes, and outdated learning environments also keep many potential students away from such institutes. Lack of information and research about available training facilities and current skill set of the existing labor force is also a major issue.

Certification of skill set and verification of honesty and integrity of labor also contributes to optimum employment. On the supply side, it can be argued that extremely low wage rate in Pakistan also discourages people in investing money on skill acquisition. Similarly, due to social issues, a major part of our women workforce remains outside formal employment.

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As far as policies, in order to develop human resources over the medium and long term time frameworks, are concerned, first of all, the data of available semi-skilled and skilled labor needs to be tabulated. Mapping of all the institutes in the country imparting training to the semi-skilled and skilled labor will be required. All this data will help in ascertaining the exact supply of semi-skilled and skilled human resource labor and the available potential per annum.

Secondly, to determine the exact demand feedback needs to be obtained from all the industries and the services sector. This data will help in determining the shortage or over-supply of semi-skilled labor and the future requirements. This supply-demand position will also make it clear whether the wages given to the semi-skilled and skilled labor are at par with their qualifications.

The recent GDP trends show that the human resource employed in the agricultural sector is declining; in the industrial sector, it is constant whereas in the services sector demand is increasing. In the light of this trend, it appears that the future lies in the services sector. Therefore, the human resource needs to be developed for this sector. This sector mainly includes transportation, retail business, and information technology.

Pakistan has been facing massive challenges in the socio-economic sector for many decades. Consequently, ranking on the Human Development Index has remained low.

In the medium term, the existing technical training institutes that are either closed down or are underutilized are to be identified and activated. It is essential that the share of spending on professional education be increased from 2.3% to 3.5% over the next two years. In this regard, the government shall initiate projects of “Train the Trainers” with the help of foreign donors to fill the gap of trainers of technical education in the country. 

Keeping in view the future demand in all the sectors of the economy, new institutions will have to be established at cities/places where such skills are required. Establishment of a National Skills Information System to consolidate the demand and supply at the country level is required.

It will also develop the much-needed linkages between industries and trained labor force. The system of secondary school education shall be so modified as to include technical and vocational education like carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical work, etc. Economic incentives shall be announced for the parents who send their children to such schools.

Conclusion

In order to get maximum benefit out of the demographic dividend and to avoid civil unrest due to potential unemployment of a growing youthful population, Pakistan needs to pay immediate attention to the quality of its human capital.

Read more: CPEC: Pakistan’s economic development or China’s Imperialism

CPEC has been referred as a ‘game-changer’ for Pakistan. Energy and infrastructure projects are underway, which are an essential prerequisite for the industrialization through the establishment of Specialized Economic Zones, under CPEC.  So far the progress on the setting up of SEZs is very slow and not up to the mark. The Federal Government needs to play a lead role to assist provinces in the capacity building and to overcome the problem of poor governance and it shall certainly pave the way for Pakistan to move from ‘factor-driven stage to ‘ efficiency-driven stage.

Saud Bin Ahsen has done post-graduation in Public Administration from Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics. He can be reached at saudzafar5@gmail.com


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