CPEC will only be an opportunity if Pakistan invests to develop skills among young cadres. There should be nine Special Economic Zones spatially distributed among provinces. Each SEZ should provide unique opportunities to engage the local community, especially the youth
SEPTEMBER 20, 2018
Pakistan is home to one of the largest youth bulge in the world. Statistics show that almost 31.36 percent population fall in the category between the 0-14 years age group, and 21.14 percent are between the ages of 15-24 years. It represents almost 55 percent of the population. Despite being blessed with this youth capital, Pakistan finds it hard to realise the youth dividend. It faces challenges in meeting the prerequisites to benefit from the youth bulge which mainly includes good quality education, skill development, quality health facilities and good environment for development. Specifically, two very important groups of youth namely madrasa students and uneducated youth remain ignored in the national development agenda.
Madrasa students amount to almost 2.4 million, and almost 20 million children are out of school. The demographic profile of uneducated youth is missing in Pakistan’s data system.
It is a well-recognised fact that youth bulge related benefits only remain available for a certain period of time. After that period the youth bulge converts into the youth curse, which is difficult to manage. Pakistan has until 2045 to 2050, after that this blessing will turn into a burden for Pakistan and its resources.
In this context, Pakistan has to move forward quickly to capitalise the benefits. But it is still struggling to devise appropriate policies and implementation frameworks to steer the youth in the desired direction. Last two decades were difficult for Pakistan, as a country which had to face the brunt of the war on terror and other domestic issues. Financial resources have been depleted and Pakistan has been struggling to manage the basic economic and social indicators. Pakistan has lost almost a 100 billion dollars to this war, in addition to the loss of life. Opportunities for business and investment have started to shrink.
It is a well-recognised fact that youth bulge related benefits only remain available for a certain period of time. After that period the youth bulge converts into the youth curse, which is difficult to manage. Pakistan has until 2045 to 2050, after that this blessing will turn into a burden for Pakistan and its resources
China came forward to assist the country in tackling the issues of economic development and investment. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was offered to Pakistan and has started to materialise during the last few years. It presents a ray of hope for the country, through rapid industrial growth and agricultural transformations. Now CPEC has entered the second stage, which is being declared as an enrichment and expansion stage. During this phase, the investment should be on industrial cooperation, skill development, and livelihood opportunities, especially for the youth and the marginalised sections.
History tells us skill development is a key area for defining the future of any country. However, Pakistan does have an elaborate structure of skill development in place for decades.It consists of several federal and provincial institutes to facilitate the production of quality skilled human capital. Unfortunately, this infrastructure could not benefit much due to many reasons including financial constraints, bad management, low political preference, a mismatch between market demand and the lack of interest of people. Moreover, almost all training institutes only cater to the needs of people with some level of education. The un-educated youthand madrassa students cannot benefit from the majority of the institutes.
CPEC will only be an opportunity if Pakistan invests to develop skills among young cadres. There should be nine Special Economic Zones (SEZ) spatially distributed among provinces. Each SEZ should provide unique opportunities to engage the local community, especially the youth. However, unskilled labour will not be able to benefit from these opportunities. SEZs will be dealing with a number of industrial products, both finished and unfinished. Therefore, the government needs to ensure that people have the necessary skills to take part in the project.
The government has an opportunity to expand the job market for the people with the help of China, who is willing to invest in skill development for livelihood improvement. During his visit to Pakistan, H.E. Wang Yi showed a willingness to invest in skill development, livelihood opportunities and eradication of poverty. Pakistan can make it part of a long-term plan of CPEC.
There are few things, which Pakistan will have to do to reap the benefit of this generous offer. First of all, there is a need to conduct a need assessment of required skills along the CPEC. There is a need to decode the opportunities related to each SEZ to determine the required skills for local communities. Presently, Pakistan does not have data, which can explain the supply and demand for skilled labour. Therefore, Pakistan is not able to devise any meaningful policy to tackle the issue of unemployment and poverty.
Secondly, there should be a policy framework to take short term, medium term and long-term steps to tackle the issue of skills. Thirdly, the government must have developed a policy to engage with madrasas. It can be a two-tier policy, short and long-term. In short-term, the government can identify the number of students within the age group of 16-25 and work with them. Design short-term programs like 6 month or 12 months to impart skills like electrical, technicians for different fields, services related to hoteling or masonry work or apprenticeship programs etc. For long-term, the government can work with madrasas for education and skill development programs. These interventions will help in two ways, first to control and reduce poverty, second to engage madrasas in peace building opportunities that eradicate terrorism in the country.
Madrasa students are more than willing to take part in positive activities. It is evident from the success of recent Zalmi Madrasa Cricket League in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Students from all sects of madrasas participated and enjoyed the event. They were of the opinion that it is a unique opportunity for them to engage with all types of people, and it also improved their perception of the world.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor also provides an opportunity to tackle issue on sustainable basis. But it requires a well-researched and well-thought-out response from the government. Moreover, Pakistan can learn from China, and how it addressed the issue of skill development of less educated and uneducated people; how China turned this liability into opportunity and benefited from it.
The writer is Director Research Uptake and Business Development, Sustainable Development Policy Institute