Skilling Labour

Published in Dawn on July 26 2016

WORLD Youth Skills Day on July 15 went by quietly in Pakistan. There was no fresh resolve, nor any policy announcement by the government for ‘skills development to improve youth employment’ — the UN theme of the year — though it would have been an opportune moment to share recommendations of the task force on the national technical and vocational education and training policy the government formed in May 2014.

Sadly, skills development is not a national priority, nor is turning the ‘youth bulge’ into a dividend a strategic concern. Investment in skills development is abysmally low. The number of poorly skilled and unskilled workers is rising while national productivity is falling.

In its consultation document submitted in November 2014, the task force had asked the government to reaffirm the objectives of the National Skills Strategy (2009-2013), the first ever in Pakistan’s history, and recommended that it should “form the continuing basis for reform for the period 2014-2020”.

The strategy, put in place by the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission, had proposed a paradigm shift from curricula-based education to competency-based training. It provided a framework for a sound national policy for skills development. But as it happens with all planning documents, implementation on the initiatives proposed by the strategy was weak, made worse by the lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities and lack of coordination between federal and provincial governments in the post-18th Amendment era which continues till today.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey, only 11 per cent of Pakistan’s population has attained 10 years of schooling. When we break down this miniscule ‘matriculate’ population into age cohorts, 2.61pc are of ages 15 to 19 years while 1.66pc are from 20 to 24 years old. Our current state-funded skill training provisions serve only 7.3pc of youth (between 15 to 24 years). Pakistan ranks the lowest among 19 South East Asian countries in skilled labour force. Only 8pc of workers receive formal training in Pakistan, according to an estimate, compared to 90pc in China, and 23pc in Bangladesh.

In the Medium Term Development Framework the government set a target to train 950,000 skilled workers annually in 2005. By that count 7.6 million workers should have been skilled in eight years. Disappointingly, by 2013, there were only 315,000m students who were enrolled across 1,522 technical and vocational education and training institutes in Pakistan. But who cares for the targets set in the past? The Prime Minister Youth Skills Development Prog­ramme, operative since 2014, is said to be skilling 25,000 people annually.

Skilling labour requires a sound and holistic policy that integrates skill development into mainstream education. A system that creates an awareness of the value of vocational and technical education is a prerequisite for sustained skills development. We as a society prefer general education over technical education.

This mindset needs to change as it casts away youth who are average or perform poorly in schools and academia and who might have benefited from vocational education. Many students have a knack for technical education but they never get a chance to find out what they might like to do, would love to do and in what vocation they could, in fact, excel.

General education is based on theoretical knowledge and is not geared towards employability. Technical education provides skill-based knowledge and is job-oriented. According to one estimate, some 70pc of our youth are enrolled in educational institutes but just 3pc go to technical and vocational education and training institutes.

Skills are a critical asset for individuals and it is best if basic skills are built early on, that is, during the middle and higher secondary school days. The middle and high schools in developed countries offer courses in metalwork and woodwork, electrical work, drafting, auto repair, typing and business courses. The courses are meant to equip the young to help them in home maintenance and to manage personal needs. These basic courses also familiarise them with vocational skills that are further strengthened through community college courses and pursued as a vocation in the future. The school curricula make sure that the skills taught at school are relevant to the modern-day world and meet the demands of the contemporary job market.

The 2009-2013 National Skills Strategy had proposed to incorporate aspects of vocational education in general education so the youth “become aware of different career choices and employment”. The strategy recommended a nationally uniform system of vocational education in schools. It is high time the government finalised the first-ever national technical and vocational education and training policy, puts in place the legislative and regulatory frameworks and establishes the missing institutional mechanisms identified by the task force.

View the article on Dawn’s website: http://www.dawn.com/news/1273126/skilling-labour

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