The problems and needs of Pakistan’s burgeoning young population have not yet received the attention they deserve. We have one of the largest youth populations in the world. Currently, 64 percent of the nation is younger than 30 and 29 percent of Pakistanis are between 15 and 29. Pakistan now has more young people than it has ever had, and this is projected to increase rapidly in the coming years.
Over the years, Pakistan has grossly neglected its most precious asset. While the global trend has seen an upswing in the Youth Development Index, Pakistan has moved from the middle to low category in a span of only five years from 2010 to 2015.
According to an estimate, about 30 percent of young people are illiterate, while of the four million youth who enter the workforce each year, hardly 40 percent find jobs. According to a UNDP report, about half of our country’s youth is not receiving any kind of education or training, and an overwhelming proportion lacks a regular source of income.
The situation is fraught with unforeseen consequences. If the young people are not meaningfully engaged, growing frustration and disaffection will drive them to extremism and other destructive channels.
There is an urgent need for a comprehensive plan to educate, train and engage our young people. To this end, the PTI government has taken a number of initiatives, including the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission’s “National Skills for All” strategy, and the Kamyab Jawan Programme which offers jobs portals and business loans. Punjab’s Parwaaz programme partners with the private sector to upskill youth. That the government is seriously concerned on this account is shown by the reference to youths In the National Security Policy which notes that a “dedicated focus on youths is essential for our future progress”.
The youth have the potential to transform a country. Properly educated and trained, they can act as the drivers of future development. On the flip side, their disillusionment could lead to social chaos and unrest.
In 2017, Pakistan’s National Human Development Report interviewed about 13,000 young people across Pakistan to gather information for transforming the youth bulge into a demographic dividend. The voices of youths were sampled in various ways, ranging from mainstream social media websites to more innovative approaches such as art competitions, video messages, radio shows, the Razakaar programme, the Your Idea Counts campaign, and the #Khwab Pakistan (Dream Pakistan) campaign involving young leaders. In addition, data from national surveys and new data from a National Youth Perceptions Survey was used to compile a sub-national Human Development Index, Youth Development Index, and a Youth Gender Inequality Index.
The research threw up some very interesting findings: 29 out of 100 young people were illiterate and only 6 percent had more than 12 years of education. Regarding employment, 39 of 100 youth were employed, 57 of 100 youths were neither working nor seeking jobs. Only 4 percent were unemployed and looking for work. Regarding social engagement and connectivity, only 15 percent of youths had access to the Internet, 52 percent owned a cell phone, 94 percent did not have access to a library, and 93 percent lacked access to a sports facility.
There is a serious mismatch between employment market demands and our education system. Our economy is transiting from agriculture to services, while in the manufacturing sector we are not technologically competitive.
Investing in the development of this burgeoning segment of Pakistan’s population will mean exploiting its enormous potential to achieve sustainable economic growth. But the problem is that we lack concrete, long-term youth-oriented development policies and the requisite implementation machinery. The absence of customized training and entrepreneurial programmes makes matters worse.
If we want to convert the challenge of our youth bulge into an opportunity we need to put the national focus on the two most important components of change – education and employment. It is an unfortunate fact that in the field of education Pakistan is behind other nations. We need to concentrate all our energies on overcoming this lag. The many challenges to education include barriers for girls’ education, high drop-out rates, low levels of public investment, and an insufficient number of schools. All these challenges have to be met head-on for a meaningful change.
Almost 4 million young people enter the working age group every year. If the current labour force participation rate and unemployment levels remain constant, 0.9 million new jobs will be needed every year over the next five years. If we aim to improve labor force participation rates, an additional 1.3 million jobs must be created each year for the next five years.
Youth unemployment is a national crisis. There is a sense of general hopelessness and despondency among the youth about their future. The sooner the government addresses this problem, the better for the future of Pakistan.