Youth give less importance to vocational training

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: Low perception of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is preventing Pakistani youth from considering it a viable and mainstream alternative, resulting in their entry into the labour market with low skills, according to a recently released Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

Titled “Skills Development for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Developing Asia-Pacific,” the 400-page report issued earlier this week says the perception of the quality of technical education in Pakistani industries is low, and lists the shortage of skilled labour as one of the major constraints on investment.

“Compared to general education, vocational training has been relatively neglected and is fragmented and supply-oriented,” it says. The ADB adds that employees expect low prospects of technical education courses, which results in their low take-ups.

“Curricula of all provincial technical boards have no relevance whatsoever with the industry. I’d even say that their degrees are now obsolete,” said Adnan Asdar, founder-director of The Hunar Foundation (THF), while speaking to The Express Tribune.

THF is a non-profit vocational training institution that teaches courses of, and conducts examinations for, City & Guilds, which is the UK’s leading provider of vocational qualifications.

“We got foreign accreditation in order to raise the standard of technical education in Pakistan. That’s one reason up to 90% THF students get a job during internship with a starting salary of Rs14,000 or more,” Asdar said.

But institutes like THF cannot alone fulfil the growing demand of skilled labour in Pakistan. For example, the ADB ranks Pakistan among five countries with the lowest TVET enrolments at the tertiary level. Only 5.1% of all students at the tertiary level are enrolled in the vocational and technical stream, said ADB.

The corresponding figures for China, Malaysia and Singapore are 44.6%, 43.3% and 42.3%.

Another reason for the low level of skilled labour in South Asia, according to the ADB, is that over 70% of its workforce is engaged in informal or unorganised labour. “Much of this is stuck in the agricultural sector, which will need to transform in order to have a major dent on informal employment,” the report says.

The share of informal labour force in Pakistan is 63.1%, it says. Approximately 1.2 million people enter the labour force every year in Pakistan, showing an annual growth rate of 2.7%. The rate of youth unemployment in Pakistan is 8%, which is higher than the overall unemployment rate of 5%, the report states.

“Despite the declining share of agriculture, the share of employment in agriculture is still very high in South Asia,” it says.

Acknowledging that Pakistan is pursuing “ambitious projects in infrastructure”, the ADB report emphasises that commensurate investments in developing human capital are imperative to achieve maximum returns.

The ADB also estimates that 50% of the population of South Asia will be living in cities by 2050. “For a region that is witnessing demographic transition and massive migration from rural areas to urban centres, skills development must use this opportunity as one of the key drivers for skilling and equipping people,” the ADB says.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15, 2012.

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