Over 68 percent of Pakistan’s estimated population of 220 million is below the age of 30 and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s top priority is to empower this youth dividend. His government has committed over 110bn rupees to the flagship Kamyab Jawan Program, which will channel loans and financial aid to young Pakistanis by means of the following programs: the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES), which is designed to enable start-ups; Skills Scholarships Scheme (Hunarmand Pakistan) to train and equip the youth with industry 4.0 high-tech and high-end traditional skills to gain employment in domestic and international markets; and bodies such as the National Youth Council and the Tiger Force, which seek to tap into the unbounded enthusiasm of the youth for policymaking and civil engagement.
Keeping in mind the clear and present imperative to enable youth entrepreneurship, employability, and civic engagement, the various components of the Kamyab Jawan were conceived after conducting extensive surveys of the youth and consulting their representatives, and are now being rolled out in earnest. The future generation of Pakistan was prioritized when designing the program since it motivates the youth to engage with the program fully, which is undeniably a critical aspect of its success.
As the implementation of the program gathers momentum, it will not only empower the future generation, but also help enhance the nation’s industrial productivity, competitiveness, domestic production and exports, as well as significantly boost the inflow of foreign remittances. Enabling the youth to participate and contribute positively in all aspects of society through their civic and economic engagement is seen by the PTI government as the most effective strategy to transform the nation’s future.
Historically there had been limited effort to ensure the youth bulge’s productive engagement that directly enabled gainful employment and/or access to finance for entrepreneurship without the strings of collateral being attached. In order to address this shortcoming, the current government launched the Kamyab Jawan initiative, and Prime Minister Imran Khan made it his priority to provide opportunities to the vast majority of young Pakistanis living in an environment of extreme vulnerability and who are disadvantaged through educational inequality. Despite severe resource constraints since coming to power, as well as the challenges of COVID-19, the PTI government has nevertheless gone ahead with the implementation of viable solutions that can meet challenges the youth face, and resultantly work towards transforming the youth bulge into a force multiplier for progressive change.
The first of the Kamyab Jawan’s three core planks is the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES), which recognizes the fact that across the globe, entrepreneurship is the fastest route to job creation. Countries that have enabled their youth to become entrepreneurs have been and will more successful than those that have not. The scheme has budgeted Rs.100 billion in loans to be disbursed through 21 partner banks in a completely transparent process without any political interference. So far, cash injection of more than Rs.8.5 Billion has enabled the establishment of more than 10,000 businesses. Loans are largely given to the agriculture and livestock, manufacturing and services sectors to exploit the untapped potential in these areas.
A special provision has been made to ensure that people across the gender spectrum (men, women and transgender persons) benefit from the scheme. For example, Tehzeeb, a female resident of Kot Ghulam Rasool village in Nankana Sahib District, applied for a Kamyab Jawan loan scheme to scale up her dairy business. “Though our dairy business was doing fine, it was operating at a small scale and we wanted to grow it. We got to know about the loan scheme through our relatives and decided to apply,” she said. Similarly, Sonia Naz, a trans-artist, became the first member of the transgender community to open her own business in the fashion industry after getting a soft loan amounting to Rs. one million under YES. Despite having started only recently, there are already numerous early signs of tremendous success. Therefor the speed of approval and disbursement is being expedited, and the size of loans is being enhanced.
The second but equally important element of the Kamyab Jawan is the Skills Scholarship Program, also known as Hunarmand Pakistan. This scheme was designed keeping in mind that the skills training sector, until now, was largely ignored with paltry investments coming in from both the public and private sectors. It therefore suffered from limited training capacity, outdated workshops and laboratories, obsolete training equipment, archaic teaching methods, and antiquated curricula. Therefore, it was unable to meet the skill training requirements of domestic and international markets, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Kamyab Jawan Skills Scholarship Program (Hunarmand Pakistan) was launched with a budget of Rs.10 billion that with success is expected to be expanded. The project envisages a broad-based and comprehensive reforms agenda in Pakistan’s skills training sector, and is directly offering the following benefits to youth:
i. 170,000 young Pakistanis are being trained in employable skills in 720 institutes across Pakistan.
ii. 100 High-tech Skill Centers will be established to modernize the skills sector for up skilling of the youth.
iii. For achieving International Standards in skills education, the National Accreditation Council (NAC) has been established to accredit 2,000 institutes. 400 institutes have been accredited so far.
Progress towards this end has already been started with the National Vocational & Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC). A prime feature of this intervention is the introduction of high-tech skills in fields as sophisticated as Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Robotics, Cyber Security, Graphic Designing, 3D Animation, SAP/ERP, and Industrial automation. These have designed keeping in mind the gig-economy that has taken the workplace beyond the physical space and from which young people across the globe are benefiting.
With the Covid-19 pandemic shifting the mode of work from physical to digital, this government is fully cognizant of the importance of equipping the youth to transition to a digital economy so that Pakistan can compete with the world for service provision and technical expertise. Under the PTI government, software exports have experienced the fastest growth, and the sector is expected to earn Pakistan approximately $2bn in revenues in the current year. However, this is still only a minuscule amount of what the true potential of this sector is. The Skill Scholarship Training Program is enabling large numbers of young Pakistanis to participate in this growing sector through becoming free lancers as well as providing skilled manpower for already established tech companies. This initiative will undoubtedly help Pakistan close some of the gap between its current output and its potential output.
Specific skill training programs have been designed to closely align with the requirements of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. To ensure the smooth outflow of a highly-skilled workforce into the CPEC projects, NAVTTC, under the umbrella of the Kamyab Jawan, has designed a CPEC-specific job portal where the skills profiles of those trained through Kamyab Jawan are available for employers of CPEC projects. High-tech skills training courses required by companies establishing their presence in the CPEC special economic zones (SEZ) will also be imparted. By doing so, both China and Pakistan are jointly working to effectively harness two CPEC potentials, that is, productive youth engagement and enhancing per capita productivity. This will contribute massively to the overall economy by improving living standards, allowing enterprises to enhance their production capacity and snowballing into creating new employment opportunities.
As already stated above, a key component of Skills Scholarship Program (Hunarmand Pakistan) will be the establishment of 100 Centers of High-Tech Skills Training all across the country. These will be equipped with modern facilities such as smart labs for digital skills and distance learning, overseas facilitation centers, job placement centers and incubation centers for start-ups. The establishment of the high-tech centers is expected to revolutionize the skills training sector in Pakistan. Most of the preparatory work for establishing these high-tech centers has been completed and the centers are expected to be fully operational before the end of this year.
Finally, but most importantly, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, this government has formed the National Youth Council as a means for young Pakistanis to provide their input in policymaking. It is establishing Kamyab Jawan Sport Academies in all regions of the country and will hold Youth Olympics to promote sports in Pakistan. To acknowledge and promote innovative ideas, the government is launching an innovation league for youth engagement. The Kamyab Jawan Program is designed as a sustainable platform for action in creating a national ecosystem whereby the youth are provided constitutional recognition, social protection, and gainful opportunities.
(The writer is the current Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs, in office since 3 December 2018 and Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, in office since 10 October 2018)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021