Investing In Youth

Investing in Youth by Amanat Ali Chaudhry

The two-day Job Fair & Entrepreneurial Exhibition organized by Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) in June 2015 brought together students, academicians, job-hunters and job-seekers, and a large number of common people. The Exhibition, first of its kind in the public sector, showcased vast opportunities of innovation, entrepreneurship and skills development. The visit to this Expo should have spurred in the visitors an inspiration to seek technical education in an attempt to brighten their career prospects.

Besides highlighting the academic capabilities of teachers, such exhibitions also spotlight the level of technical capabilities acquired by the students, through their products and projects. The Expo was also important in the sense that it represented a serious effort to attract the students and youth in exploring avenues other than traditional ones.

We are living in an era where knowledge is being increasingly identified as an engine of growth and a factor of production. Singapore, having a population equal to one-fourth of that of Karachi, and no natural resources, has exports of $460 billion today in comparison to Pakistan’s $25 billion. One more instance of it relates to MIT whose graduates have established more than 11,000 companies around the world. These companies have produced wealth to the tune of $240 billion per annum besides providing employment to over one million people.

The point I want to make here is that we can develop the knowledge economy only by producing skilled labour force that feeds into all sectors of economy.

There was a time when demography was considered a negative factor for economic development as it drained out scarce resources. Our great friend, China, has transformed this concept by turning demography into a huge economic dividend through developing skills of its youth. Thanks to the hard work of its people, today China is one of the strongest economic and political powers in the world.

We can learn lessons from China. Out of 185 million Pakistanis, about 100 million can broadly be grouped among the youth. This phenomenon of youth bulge is the most conspicuous aspect of our national life. Nevertheless, this bulge can both be a bane or a boon depending upon how we deal with it.

This window of opportunity will not remain open for ever. Time to act is short. The challenges stare us in the face. Two options are open to us: either we let this potentially great asset turn into a destructive force through our inaction or we make conscious policy choices to give youth an opportunity to unlock their élan.

It is important to remember that we can succeed in our fight against poverty, economic underdevelopment, deprivations and unemployment only if we tap our real wealth i.e. our youth and children. This is where empowerment of the youth emerges as an important area that deserves the maximum policy focus. I have no doubt about the fact that empowered and prosperous youth are a passport to a bright future. In order to stop youth bulge from becoming a burden on the society, we have to integrate and mainstream them. Investment in youth’s wellbeing shall pay dividend in the form of accelerated national development.

In addition to investing in higher education, science and technology and engineering, we have to build more and more vocational and technical schools, and establish centres of excellence in fields that are crucial to national growth. We need more and more technology parks, business incubators and industrial clusters. More than anything else, our educational, technical and vocational institutes must have linkages with the industry. We need to depart from what experts describe as low value added agricultural economy to high value added knowledge economy. This appears to be tall order which can be translated into reality if the governments spend at least 7% of GDP on education on sustainable basis.

The dream of a prosperous, stable and developed Pakistan cannot be fulfilled unless we equip our youth with the tools to tap their potential. The idea of youth’s entrepreneurship is characterized by their willingness to take risks; to think out of the box; to launch and found business ventures in a marketplace that is in constant flux. Today, Pakistan needs pioneers, innovators, leaders and inventors. I want to see our youth transition from being a job-seeker to being a job-creator.

This is easier said than done. To realize this dream, we need to have a consistent policy framework. More than this, we need strong resource base. This calls for a robust public-private collaboration to fund the Research and Development (R&D). The countries that make massive investments in R&D are able to increase their global competitiveness and innovation. The private sector is a major contributor to the development of R&D the world over with its share of 63% while the remaining 37% comes from the public sector.

The government needs to engage and persuade the industrialists and businessmen to come forward and partner with the government in taking the country forward.

Public sector organizations like TEVTA have a key role to play in fulfilling the vision of making Pakistan an industrial giant. TEVTA, through its vast network of colleges and institutes, can equip the youth with technical and vocational skill so that they are able to earn a respectable livelihood.

The skilled youth would also have the opportunity to get jobs abroad. Facilitating the people, with technical education and vocational training has two-fold objective that is to prepare and provide skilled manpower to help accelerate the pace of industrial development, on one hand, and provision of indoor/outdoor employment to the neglected youth on the other.

The launching of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme by TEVTA is also another important initiative, which is expected to benefit thousands of informal skilled apprentices, by assessing and certifying their skills in a given trade.

TEVTA has set up placement centers to facilitate the skilled youth to get employment in the country as well as in the Middle East, which is a prime job market for skilled workers. For this purpose, a road show is also being planned in GCC countries this year.

Our youth are our invaluable asset. We need to invest in their development and empowerment, for with them is linked the future of this country. Thus, the youth empowerment must get the highest policy priority at the governmental level. Let us hope that both the federal and provincial governments are alive to the challenge.

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