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KP 34,359 Cases

Youth skills development is a challenge during COVID-19

Jawad Khan is the Chief Executive Officer of Punjab Skills Development Fund in Pakistan (PSDF). PSDF manages over $200 million in contributions from the Government of Punjab, DFID UK and The World Bank. The Fund is shaping the future wellbeing of the poor and vulnerable youth of Punjab, with a population of 120 million, by training them in demand-driven and market-relevant skills and supporting them in finding income-generating opportunities in Pakistan and beyond. PSDF has also partnered with the World Economic Forum and Government of Pakistan, to launch the National Accelerator on Closing the Skills Gap in Pakistan (Parwaaz), and Jawad serves as the Country Head.

Before joining PSDF, Jawad spent 15 years in the corporate sector in the UAE. He was the Chief Operating Officer of the international development division of the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD); $60 billion sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Dubai. Before that, he was associated with Dubai Holding and held various senior leadership positions including Chief Operating Officer of SmartCity Dubai, Chief Strategy Officer of TECOM Investments, Chief Operating Officer of Global Village and the Head of Strategy & Corporate Planning. Jawad has a Master in International Finance & Business from Columbia University in the City of New York, USA.

Following are the edited transcripts of his conversation with BR Research around current challenges and his outlook on skills development for youth in the era of COVID-19.

BR Research: The last time we met, you declared national emergency on skills development in the country. Where do we stand almost a year later?

Jawad Khan: The situation has worsened since, especially due to the impact of COVID-19. The economic downturn has resulted in serious contraction in business activity as well as job losses. It will take, at the least, 12-18 months for most businesses to get back to 2019 levels after the pandemic ends.

Skills development, however, is not the end game: it is a means to better income generation opportunities through formal and self-employment. Since formal employment opportunities have shrunk considerably, more and more youth will have to resort to self-employment to survive. On the funding side, the economic contraction has led to public revenue shortfall and fewer resources available for development, including skills training and youth development programs. 2020 will be a very difficult year for skills development.

BRR: What have been PSDF's key initiatives in this last year? Can you share some statistics?

JK: PSDF launched truly unique programs last year that helped our graduates access better income generation opportunities. We launched a program called ‘Entrepreneurship on Wheels’, in partnership with Uber & National Highway Authority, enabling trainees secure their commercial rickshaw license after extensive training on driving skills and road safety and then onboarding them on ride hailing platform to earn a sustainable living. Through its microfinance partners, PSDF also helps the graduates in buying their own rickshaws on concessional terms.

PSDF also leveraged its partnership with Generation - a US based youth employment nonprofit organization and introduced a comprehensive Retail Sales Associates Program anchored in international best practices, tailored to the Pakistani retail landscape. We linked the graduates of this program with leading retail brands in Pakistan.

After the success of our overseas partnerships with Rotana Hotels, last year PSDF signed an agreement with Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai and trained youth in four hospitality trades and placed them in jobs at the Resort. We also signed an agreement with Middle East’s leading restaurant operator - Americana Group- that operates 1,900 restaurants and brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees, TGI Fridays’ KrispyKreme and several others. PSDF has trained and placed them in Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) across the region.

To ensure inclusion of marginalized groups within our training objectives, we launched a specific program under the banner of UMEED (Upskilling Marginalized Youth for Employability, Empowerment & Dignity). The beneficiaries are youth with special needs, non-Muslim youth and transgenders. We launched tailored programs to equip them with demand driven, and market relevant skills training, to help them achieve financial independence.

BRR: We have been banking on the huge youth population bulge for a long time. Isn't it high time that this segment starts yielding results?

JK: Whether this bulge becomes a dividend, or a curse is in the hands of the national decision makers. More than 80 percent of this bulge constitutes of young men and women with matriculate or less education. They need access to skills training to enter skills-based employment opportunities or become self-employed. The governments are responsible to chalk out a sustained plan for skills development for the youth through long-term funding commitments, policy interventions to attract more private sector players to enter the skills training space, improve the national image of skills training and incentivize industry to work with TVET players to upgrade curriculum, delivery models and provide income generation opportunities. Failure to do this will have disastrous consequences.

BRR: A key area for skills development particularly for women should be entrepreneurship. What is PSDF doing or plans to do on that front especially now that women are facing challenges due to COVID-19?

JK: PSDF’s signature ‘Skills for Market Linkages’ has been designed to promote women entrepreneurship. It is a combination of skills and entrepreneurship training as well as creating actual market linkages for these women so they can independently sustain their businesses. Last year, 3,000 women got trained under it. The results are so encouraging that PSDF plans to expand it across Punjab and help other provinces to design it so it can be rolled out nationally.

With the impact of COVID-19, women are losing jobs and need an alternative to generate income. The rapid spread of the virus is compounding the problem as they cannot get out of the house to seek new opportunities. PSDF has developed a virtual training program, exclusively for women, that trains them in working remotely with the vendor network of Amazon on its platform. It will help them to earn up to $300 per month. We have many new initiatives that are planned in the ICT space for women to support entrepreneurship.

BRR: Before coming to the overall TVET sector issues, could you briefly explain the broad contours of the TVET model of Pakistan?

JK: The governance of TVET in Pakistan is decentralized. There is a federal apex body responsible for TVET in Pakistan. Its primary functions include strategic planning, standard setting, and quality assurance across Pakistan. However, the provinces are independent to set up their own TVET governance. For example, Punjab has set up Skills Development Authority that will also perform the same functions the national apex body is responsible for. Similarly, most countries have independent national skills funds and national certification bodies to ensure funding sustainability and standardized certifications. Unfortunately, these critical entities have not been established at the national level. PSDF is the only skills development fund in Pakistan at the moment.

The delivery of skills trainings is dominated by the public sector training providers. Every province has TEVTA that takes on the responsibility for technical training of the youth. PSDF started the trend of attracting private sector training providers into skills training and now the ecosystem of these private training providers stands at over 700 in Punjab.

BRR: Regulatory framework, effective implementation, adequate resource allocation, better integration of TVET institutes with the industry, public/private sector capacity or the TVET model itself - which area is a problem for skills development in Pakistan?

JK: All of them. The regulatory framework is fragmented, and the implementation is challenging. Resource allocation decisions are made on an annual basis, depending on availability of funding, which makes long-term sustained planning on skilling the youth impossible. Integration of TVET providers with the industry is a global challenge, yet a critical one to resolve. PSDF works with over 200 businesses across 10 sectors; these businesses train according to the PSDF criteria and provide sustainable employment opportunities to the graduates. PSDF also pushes training partners to develop consortiums with industry by linking their payments with employment outcomes. That is the only way to get results from investment in skills training.

BRR: The last time we met, you said that the private sector is key to growth in skills development. How successful have you been in approaching the corporations and what has been their response?

JK: The capacity of the public sector is woefully inadequate to cater to the skills needs of our country. The role of private sector is key in expanding the capacity, upgrading the standards, and delivering income generation opportunities. Over 200 businesses work directly with PSDF in delivering these objectives. More than 50 businesses are also PSDF’s cost sharing partners that are sharing the costs of training, contributing millions to training. These successes need to be scaled nationally. PSDF also leads the National Accelerator on Closing the Skills Gap in Pakistan in partnership with the World Economic Forum. The Accelerator is called Parwaaz and under that platform, we have attracted the most influential leaders from companies all over Pakistan to identify and support the delivery of skills trainings for reskilling, upskilling and new-skilling needs of the youth.

BRR: What has been PSDF's role in the current coronavirus crisis? Has PSDF taken any steps towards an e-learning mode?

JK: PSDF is organizationally structured to be an agile and responsive company. We were the first ones to launch a completely online course in Urdu on COVID-19 Infection Control & Disease Prevention, in partnership with Gnowbe and Ngee Ann Polytech Singapore. The mobile course was designed for frontline workers engaged in providing critical services. Thousands of learners have completed the course.

Similarly, PSDF has partnered with foodpanda to train women online so they can market and sell the food they cook at home. Another online program is going to prepare women to take on projects from thousands of vendors on the Amazon platform. PSDF is also in the process of launching 20 new ICT online courses that have been designed to be delivered online.

BRR: What is your estimate of unemployment that COVID-19 could bring?

JK: The impact of COVID-19 will be massive on employment. Some sectors will get more affected than others. Whereas manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and ICT will provide opportunities in the more near-term; others like retail, F&B, hospitality, travel & tourism, and aviation will take longer to recover. We must make serious efforts to create a simple and executable ecosystem where youth can be trained to become self-employed.

BRR: Daily wagers and workers in the informal sector are being hit the most in terms of employment. In addition, there is also an influx in Pakistan of skilled/unskilled workers from GCC countries who were laid off amid the pandemic. What reforms are needed particularly in skills development in the current situation? What are global best practices?

JK: The daily wage worker is typically an uneducated and unskilled worker. They are most at risk whenever economic downturns hit. Ideally, the workers should be required to enroll in skills training programs in order to benefit from the cash transfer schemes of the government. This is not possible in the current environment as all onsite trainings are currently suspended. As soon as the trainings resume, these workers should be enrolled in skills trainings in case they don’t find work and continue to benefit from the Ehsaas program.

The services sectors in the GCC will also take time to recover back to 2019 level. The workers that return from GCC have acquired high level of skills as they compete with global talent overseas. They should be enrolled in the Kamyab Jawan program and encouraged to become self-employed through basic entrepreneurship training.

BRR: Do we have the capacity to undertake these reforms?

JK: We do. We need to demonstrate willingness to undertake them and start small. The scale will come over time. The right start is the key to achieving long-term scale with success.

BRR: What are PSDF's plans going forward?

JK: PSDF is actively working on revamping its portfolio of trainings as well as the delivery modes. The focus for the next 12-18 months will be on those sectors that have the potential to generate employment opportunities for our graduates. Similarly, we will also fund training in those trades where there is potential for self-employment. Our training programs will comprise of all modules that will help trainees become entrepreneurs. We are also revamping the delivery of training by moving to virtual platforms for standardizing conceptual trainings and using our ecosystem of training partners to train in the application of those concepts.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020