Modernizing Pakistani workforce skills- challenges & opportunities

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By Shiekh Abdul Shakoor

PAKISTAN is blessed with tremendous human resource where more than 60% of its 210 million people are between the age group of 18-35 years. Over the last three decades, significant gains in workforce size and quality helped the country to become a major source of manpower export. This, in turn, has helped to improve living standards and making economic progress, not just in Pakistan but also in the countries where Pakistani workforce has made contributions.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to the largest Pakistani workforce population abroad, owing to cultural and religious similarities, as well as strong and brotherly ties between the two countries for more than seven decades. Some say that the Kingdom’s impressive infrastructure development over the years is laced with the toil and sweat of Pakistani workers.

According to a study by the Boston Working Group analysis of workforce demography, Pakistan is projected as a country with one of the best demographic strengths. However, the demographic strength can only become economically productive if the manpower possesses requisite and modern skills according to the demands of the labor market. Pakistan, has therefore, made substantial investments in training and skills development of its burgeoning workforce.

Through international partnerships, Pakistan embarked on an ambitious reform in its Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Sector in 2011. The first phase of the reform was successfully completed in 2016, and the country is currently undergoing the second five-year phase of TVET reform commencing from 2017.

During the first phase of 2011-16, Pakistan launched its first ever TVET policy and initiated the implementation of National Skills Strategy. A National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) was launched under which more than 20,000 youth graduated from 142 TVET institutes in more than 50 disciplines. Under the TVET teaching program, 8,500 teachers were trained in pedagogy and 18 E-learning centers were established. In a separate project FIT (Fund for Innovative Training), more than 125,000 men and women benefited from 36 training courses in diverse skill sets. More than a hundred Vocational Counseling Centers were established. Most importantly, a National Skills Information System was launched, which, today, carries data of more than 700,000 skilled workers.

The second five-year phase (2017-21) focuses on developing public private partnership, along with international collaboration, to achieve more ambitious goals in modernizing the skill sets and capabilities of Pakistani workforce. These goals include establishment of 5 Centers of Excellence for skilled teachers, preparing more than 4,000 Master Trainers to impart sustainability to the program, adding more than 60 new disciplines/skill sets to Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBT &A), imparting advanced skills to more than 40,000 youth, and certification and registration of skilled workers, artisans etc. from the informal sector through issuance of national certificates on standardized quality standards (Recognition of Prior Learning Program).

Pakistan is, therefore, cognizant of the changing trends of international labor market, and is well placed to continue meeting its demands.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), in its report on labor migration, skills development and the future of work in the GCC countries, states that the labor market demand for low- and semi-skilled migrant workers in the (GCC) countries is projected to remain high in the short-term, as there are numerous mega projects coming up including the NEOM, King Abdullah Economic City Rabigh and ‘Expo 2020’ in the UAE. In the long-term, there will still be a structural demand for migrant workers in specific sectors, where they do not compete with the local workforce. Pakistani workforce is able, capable and trained to meet the demands of those sectors, should the GCC countries, in particular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, desire.

— The writer is Community Welfare Attaché


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