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Youth Empowerment Through Skills Development

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Youth Empowerment Through

Skills Development

How Pakistan can harness the true potential of young people

Barack H. Obama, the 44th President of the United States, once said, “The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.” The statement rings true for Pakistan’s youthful population that has all the potential to make meaningful strides in various sectors of the country’s economy. In Pakistan, around 65% of the population is made up of youth, and the percentage is increasing every year. But, there are not enough jobs available in both public and private sectors according to the academic qualifications of young people. The pains of unemployment tend to set limitations on the progress that could be made by these smart and innovative young talents. 
That Pakistan has a huge youth bulge with 65 percent of the population being under 30 years of age is an oft-quoted fact. However, the disparities among youth along socio-economic lines, skill set and therefore opportunities for a comfortable life are less talked about. Although with the advent of Naya Pakistan came a promise to create 10 million new jobs within a 5-year term, the promise remained unfulfilled. Nevertheless, it was an unreasonable target as according to the 2018 Human Development Report for Pakistan by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 1.5 million new jobs per year was ‘minimal’. 
The situation, at present, is that as per the figures given in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-22, the overall unemployment rate is 6.2 percent with the prevalence of higher unemployment rate of 12.2 percent among 20-24 years compared with 11.8 percent in 2018-19. Youth unemployment rate is quite high as compared to the average unemployment rate. The survey suggests: “Improvement in infrastructure and skill development programmes can play an important role to create employment opportunities in the country.”
However, what can be done when our country’s economy is faltering and is not capable of creating more and more jobs for the hundreds of thousands of young men and women graduating every year from universities across the country! It is a sad reality that our education system is not linked with local industry due to which even our PhDs are without jobs. Moreover, our higher education system is not at par with the international level as the successive governments in the country could not focus on tailoring the education sector according to modern-day needs. 
So, in order to avoid this double whammy, the only way seems to be the promotion of technical education and launch of skills development programs as these would enable our young people to earn a respectable livelihood at their own. By acquiring practical skills necessary for the job market and an in-demand skill-set, the youth will become valuable assets.
Pakistan has the fifth largest young human resource in the world, and they require the right direction to achieve the goals of prosperity and development. So, equipping the country’s youth with knowledge and skills as per market demands is essential to properly utilize their potential. This need gets even more urgent keeping in view the projects being undertaken under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). When our universities are not producing graduates as per the market demand, we should fervently promote technical education as it is the way the country’s huge youth population would be able to get jobs. A large number of skilled youth in the practical field would lead towards technological, economic and industrial development which would open up new avenues of prosperity not only for them but also for the country. 
Government’s Efforts
As per the PES 2021-22, “In pursuance of Goal 8 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), i.e. Decent Work and Economic Growth, the government has developed a broader roadmap for youth development under National Skill Strategy (NSS) which emphasizes on improving governance, exploring multi-source funding, capacity enhancement through employable skills, quality assurance, access and equity, industry ownership and skill development for the international market for increasing foreign remittances. The emphasis is also made on re-skilling the existing workers through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and the provision of subsidized loans to unemployed youth. Further, the introduction of Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBT&A) is an important element of the National Skills Strategy (NSS), which is the basis of the ongoing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector reform in Pakistan. It also provides the basis for the implementation of the National Vocational Qualifications Framework (NVQF).  The roadmap also urges public-private partnership; increasing the private sector’s role in the governance of TVET and encouraging linkages with the informal sector through RPL. Further, youth empowerment and productivity has been given priority in National Youth Development Framework (NYDF). 
A Laudable Recent Initiative
Recently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif launched the Youth Development Initiatives to enhance the skills of students across the country. These initiatives include 2,000 Internships for Young Engineers,  20 Under-Developed Districts Transformation Programme, 250 Mini Sports Complexes Initiative, Pakistan Innovation Fund, and 75 National Top Talent Scholarships Programme.
What should the youth do? 
Since skills remain essential for the progress and development of every country, our youth need to learn skills for career growth and personal development. It is the responsibility of the young people to learn skills in order to earn well. They must develop skills to acquire a competitive advantage when searching for a job after graduation, or when establishing a business. The youth should know how to work in the fields of communication, time management, stress management, crisis management, financial management, relationship building, etc.
1. Practical learning
Textbook learning, as mentioned earlier, will provide you with academic growth. You should focus on developing your skills including communications, finance, time management, etc. Children and the youth who receive pocket money from their parents or grandparents should save it to channel and manage their finances.
2. Cognitive analysis of big data
The youth should learn how to read data and its accompanying information to extract meaning from it. Big data is an asset for individuals and companies. It allows companies to make decisions related to marketing and finances while keeping a track of their performance and their competitors.
3. Emotional intelligence
The youth and the adults alike are under a lot of stress because of their studies or work. The youth should be taught how to control their emotions and to learn what others’ emotions mean in various situations. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management.
4. Critical thinking
Critical thinking is the study of facts and observations to come up with a conclusion. The five critical thinking skills are observation, analysis (gathering and understanding data), inference (concluding), communication, and problem-solving. The youth should know how to resolve personal and professional problems. This requires one to think beyond the tried and tested ways to come up with solutions. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are developed when you go through an experience and learn from it.
5. Digital literacy
Digital media has become a world of its own. Businesses are using it to connect with customers. Individuals are using it to conduct meetings, buy products and services, take online classes, etc. The youth must learn the skills to manage digital media. It will help them in managing their freelance business or facilitate them when they join a company after graduation as digital media is an integral part of all departments. The skills to learn in this regard include website design and development, social media promotion, content management, videography and photography, among others. Understanding how social media pays promotion works is also integral. You should know how to run online advertising campaigns and how to calculate Cost Per Thousand (CPM), Cost per Action (CPA), and Cost per Click (CPC), among other parameters.
It is not enough to be well qualified; you need skills to better your lifestyle and help your country prosper. 
Role of Technology
A recently published UNICEF report established that three out of four youths lack the necessary skills for employment. This demonstrates that one of the major causes of unemployment in youth is a lack of essential skills. Equipping oneself with these skills is, therefore, vital. In this context, digital technology provides a vista to provide youth with ample employment opportunities. A notable example is when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Both educational institutions and work setups turned to digital technology to ensure seamless continuity of operations. The ability to work and study remotely, conduct meetings and stay abreast of all job-related matters proved the critical role digital technology plays in the current society. 
Digital technology has also broken a geographical barrier that would see the youth limited to job opportunities in their region or country. Now the youth can find a full-time online opportunity with an employer on the other end of the world. International job forums have made sure of this.
Careers such as social media managers have risen due to new technological introductions. The notion that digital skills are only limited to the tech industry is no longer viable. The handprint of technology is clear in most sectors such as healthcare, finance and transportation.
Pakistan has some of the greatest demographic opportunities for development in the world as the growing youth population enters adulthood. The demographic dividend can only be achieved with adequate investments in the education and skills of youth, harvesting the fruits of long-term human capital development. Uplifting the underprivileged youth by drastically increasing opportunities for their education and training and enhancing their employability through skills development is a pressing need of the hour. The true potential of young people can only be harnessed through sustained investment in their professional development and well being. Only by prioritizing state investment in young people can we turn Pakistan’s youth bulge from a liability into an asset. In an increasingly competitive world only a skilled workforce can create the value-added products and services that the country needs for economic growth, improve macroeconomic indicators and better people’s lives.
The writer is a member of staff. 

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