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An educated and skilled workforce is a significant determinant of an economy’s development through increased levels of productivity. Rapid Technological change over the past two decades has substantially transformed the world of work. The emergence of a knowledge-based economy has spawned a new notion of workplace literacy, changing the relationship between employers and employees. In this fast evolving scenario, the traditional pledge where employees expect a stable or lifelong employment with a single employer will no longer apply. New ideas or intellectual capital, more than savings or investments, are the new keys to prosperity and to the wealth of nations in the coming years. The importance of knowledge as a tool that could be used to achieve the developmental goals of nations cannot be overemphasized. Knowledge is of decisive importance in the economic development of countries. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) encompassing the development and deployment of new technologies that are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds has major implications for socio-economic policy frameworks across the developing and emerging market economies. Pakistan has also witnessed the adoption of new technological platforms in recent years, which has altered the employment patterns and helped improve productivity in different albeit small sub-sectors sectors of the economy.

In case of Pakistan, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to impact employment and wages through technology. Presently, within the services sector, a large share of the labor force continues to be illiterate, and involved in low paid and low productivity jobs, which is likely to have serious implications for workers’ welfare due to the rapidly changing technological environment. However, concurrent with this technological revolution there are a set of broader socio-economic, geopolitical, and demographic drivers of change that might have even more significant and longer-lasting influences on the world of work. Many jobs today, and much more shortly will require specific skills — a combination of technological knowhow, problem-solving, and critical thinking as well as soft skills such as perseverance, collaboration, and empathy.

In order to emerge as successful knowledge economies, countries must act simultaneously on their education base, their innovation systems, and their information and communication technology infrastructure, while also building a high-quality economic and institutional regime. Strategies must be adapted to a country’s level of development and progress is usually gradual, but some countries have been able to achieve spectacular progress in a short span of time.

In view of the emerging challenges in the world of work, it is the need of the hour to examine the education and skill levels of Pakistan’s labour force. This will give an idea about the ability of our workforce to cope with this fast paced technological change. This analysis is carried out for the employed workforce well as for the unemployed workers. According to the Labour Force Survey of 2017-18, Pakistan has an employed workforce of 61.7 million workers (48 million male and 13 million female), while the total number of unemployed amounted to 3.7 million (2.5 million male vs. 1.2 million female).

The analysis of the educational attainment of all males (employed and unemployed) aged 10 years and above shows that the significant majority of the employed males had no formal education or less than one year of education at 39 percent. The combined share of employed with primary and upto matric level of education is 46 percent. Overall, more than 85 percent of the employed male labour-force has an education level up to matric. In the case of the unemployed males, 28 percent are observed to have no formal education or below one year of education and 46 percent has education of between primary and matric level.

The share of employed females with no formal education or less than one year of education stands at 71 percent while 10 percent have education between primary and Matric level of education. On the other hand, in terms of the unemployed females, it is observed that 24 percent have no formal education or less than one year of education, while 21 percent of them have an educational attainment of between primary and matriculation

The state of technical education and vocational training in a country is also an important indicator of the skill set available in an economy besides, the level of educational attainment of the labour force. However, in the case of Pakistan, the scenario is again not very encouraging. The Labour Force Survey reports that the substantial majority of the country’s labour force has not acquired any technical or vocational training; with this share being 79 percent for the employed males and 84 percent for their unemployed counterparts. This share in case of employed/unemployed females is pretty similar (77 percent and 84 percent respectively)

The preceding analysis which focused only on the educational level of Pakistani’s labour force, without accounting for the quality of education, clearly shows the low levels of educational achievement, which makes it difficult for them to cope with the ongoing technological changes in the world of work. This preliminary analysis highlights the urgent need to develop and implement a holistic strategy for skill upgradation of the country’s labour force, to enable Pakistan to effectively transform into a knowledge based economy and successfully compete with the other emerging economics that are heavily investing in building the skill and knowledge base of their workers.

(The writer is an economist and can be reached at [email protected])

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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