You just visit DigiSkills.pk. website of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MoIT&T), and you will find lots of “success stories.” People with their original identities, even with their photographs, are there to claim having made good money after getting free training from ministry-appointed trainers and experts.
Muhammad Irshad of Wah Cantt claims earning US$27,000 as a data analyst and geospatial data scientist in the last few months. He says he’s providing services on Fiverr. Muhammad Amir Zia of Sheikhupura took courses from DigiSkills.pk, and he earned US$14,000. Now, he is successfully running a small agency.
Muhammad Yasir from a small town, Jalalpur Pirwala, in southern Punjab, was enrolled in the first batch of DigiSkills, and he earned more than US$11,522. Muhammad Shoaib of Jhang is a special person with a speaking problem. He has been doing freelancing for the last 13 months and he earned $11,192.
There are dozens of more individuals on the official website, who have shared their stories about earning money in foreign currencies after getting training and polishing their skills in particular fields. The stories may be termed good examples of purpose-built literacy and training, which is deemed essential in a developing country, like Pakistan. In almost hundred per cent cases, the basic purpose of getting an education in the country is believed to be for getting a good job, or making money through some skills.
Usman Latif, an MS in Communication Studies, and a trainer at the initiative, says there’s nothing fake in it that hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are earning money at the cyberspace currently. The start of information and communications technologies (ICT) has opened innumerable new possibilities for knowledge workers across the globe by enabling them to provide their services remotely to clients, he tells Cutting Edge in a special interaction. Usman – a Marcom Technologist – says by leveraging these ICT technologies, a new on-demand economy is being created, where professional activities broken into discrete assignments are offered to a virtual cloud of aspiring workers. The industry, often referred to as online outsourcing, is expected to generate gross service revenue between $15 billion and $25 billion the world over in 2020.
The trainer, who has over 10 years of experience in digital marketing and growth hacking, says that a major chunk of the online outsourcing industry is being taken by individuals having necessary and relevant skills required to complete the temporary assignments and projects or contract-based work. Millions of individuals around the world are tapping into the opportunity and earning money while working from the comfort of their own homes.
Syed Amin-ul-Haque, Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication, told the participants in a training session that Pakistan was the world’s fourth largest provider of online freelancers with an estimated registered number of freelancers ranging in several hundred thousands. Most of the work done is for international clients; therefore, money earned by them is brought into the country, mainly as foreign remittances. While accurate data on money brought by freelancers is not available, estimates range from $500 million to $1.3 billion annually, the minister told Cutting Edge proudly at the interactive session.
Haque believes the amount is just a fraction of the country’s potential as, with its large population, increasing internet connectivity, broadband penetration, young and educated youth, thousands of IT graduates and million-plus enrolled university students, Pakistan can increase the number of freelancers manifold. It will help bring invaluable foreign exchange into the country, and more importantly, reduce unemployment as the number of fresh graduates passing out every year is a far more than the number of new jobs created, adds the minister.
He says that the large-scale national Digital Skills (DigiSkills) Training Programme has been launched across the country to offer one million trainings free in the future, using technology. So far, he says, the ministry has imparted training to 1.28 million youths in freelancing. The Virtual University of Pakistan has been selected to execute the mega training programme through the Ignite- National Technology Fund (formerly National ICT R&D Fund).
He said that IT exports in the previous financial year had reached US$1.11 billion, which is exemplary. Now the ministry has set the target of taking IT exports up to US$5 billion in the next three years.
Amin-ul-Haque informed the virtual participants that the ministry had entered into a partnership with JazzCash that will enable them to transfer money from their Payoneer accounts into their JazzCash Mobile Account in real-time and at the best exchange rates. Besides, DigiSkills freelancers can also register their Payoneer Account from the JazzCash App, eliminating the need for commercial bank accounts.
The minister directed the departments concerned to extend the outreach of the DigiSkills programme to schools and colleges as well as increasing the ratio of women in the programme from 23 per cent to 33 per cent and incorporating minorities and transgender persons in it. He strongly believes that bringing women and young girls into the digital marketplace will not only boost the size of the domestic economy but also increase competitiveness, address growing demand, and help more families to meet their education, health and lifestyle needs. There is hope that an advanced digital marketplace of workers in Pakistan will facilitate e-commerce, allowing goods manufactured in Pakistan to be sold both domestically and internationally. Everything from technical skills to leather goods and furniture can be marketed and exported using digital skills.
Usman Latif, the founder of Marcom Works and Digital Marketing Pakistan™, and a certified trainer and marketing instructor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), says the DigiSkills training programme is aimed at not only developing key specialised skills but also imparting knowledge about various freelancing and other employment and entrepreneurial opportunities available internationally and locally. The programme envisages imparting training to the target audience in freelancing, e-commerce management, digital marketing, digital literacy, QuickBooks, AutoCAD, WordPress, Graphics Design, Creative Writing, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), etc., he adds.