AmanTech: Creating opportunities for unskilled manpower

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: With the mainstream education system in Pakistan’s public sector already in shambles, can the government be trusted to provide adequate technical and vocational training for a number of Pakistanis? Pakistanis who otherwise have very little opportunities for upward social mobility?

Pakistan is home to approximately 120 million people below 30 years of age. According to a 2009 Unesco report, there are 18 colleges of technology, 54 polytechnic institutes (11 for females) and 25 mono-technic institutes in the country that offered three-year diploma courses in over 30 technologies. Moreover, there were 409 other vocational institutes operating in the country, which offered courses of a shorter duration in over 40 skills/trades.

“Our estimate is that there are 64 technicians per one million people in Pakistan. In developed countries, the average is well above 1,500 technicians per one million people,” says Ahsan Jamil, CEO of the Aman Foundation.

The Aman Foundation was set up in 2008 with a donation of $100 million by Arif Naqvi, founder of the UAE-based private equity firm Abraaj Capital, and considered by many a global icon in the field of private equity. The Foundation runs AmanTech, a Karachi-based vocational training initiative aimed at aligning the labour force with the expectations of the private sector, both locally and internationally.

“Currently, 25,000 students are enrolled in vocational training institutes across Pakistan. Ideally, the number should have been around four million. In fact, it should be even higher, given the low level of automation in Pakistan’s industrial sector,” Jamil said while explaining Pakistan’s standing in vocational training initiatives to The Express Tribune.

AmanTech has partnered with specialist international vocational organisations, such as Germany’s GIZ and UK’s City & Guilds, whose certifications are internationally recognised. Two years after it was launched, the institute has enrolled around 2,300 students. The first-year cohort consisted of 430 students, of whom 372 passed the City & Guilds exams, which translates into a pass rate of 86%. For those who cleared the City & Guilds exams, the placement rate was 67%, with about one-third of the graduates getting jobs overseas. “Overseas placement will go up for future batches as we establish stronger contacts with employers in the Middle East,” Jamil claimed.

Education and the City & Guilds exam fees are subsidised at AmanTech, as students have to pay only Rs1,000 per month in fees while they study at a vast, purpose-built campus that incorporates state-of-the-art workshops. AmanTech offers one-year diplomas in as many as nine trades.

“This organisation is run by business-minded people. We have been trusted with philanthropic money, and that means we cannot afford to waste a single rupee,” Jamil explains. Out of the organisation’s total annual expenses, 14% come under the head of indirect costs such as salaries, administrative expenses etc. Direct costs, or ‘programmatic costs’, account for 86% of total annual expenses. “Indirect costs are going to go down to single digits in the next three years, as we expand our operations further,” he said.

Jamil says the foundation has been investing the $100 million seed money donated by Naqvi in scalable, social businesses. “We have invested $40 million so far,” he said.

“We aim to produce high-quality labour in high-need areas. We’re working on the supply side, knowing that demand will follow,” Jamil explained

Around seven million Pakistanis are working overseas, with almost 90% of recent emigrants going to the Middle East, according to Bureau of Emigration (BoE )Assistant Director Farrukh Jamal. Between 35% and 45% of them can be categorised as unskilled labour. Data from BoE shows that 49,885 people moved abroad for work in 2011 through BoE-certified overseas employment providers, up 26.3% compared to 2010.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24, 2013.

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