IT has become the foremost preference of the
young generation as a career choice
By Syed M. Aslam
May 21 - Jun 03, 2001
Never before in human history anything has
influenced the lives of so many so profoundly like the information
technology. Through English, IT has become the most widely used
acronym in the contemporary world cutting across any and all
language barriers. In a country like Pakistan where English commands
respect as language of the elite, the word IT is not only used by
the savvy but is also innocuously peppered in otherwise colourless
conversations to win instant respect and/or argument, to flaunt
hi-tech prowess, etc.
Like elsewhere in the world, Pakistani society ,
too, has learnt to respect IT, and all those associated with it.
It's obsession with IT has its basis in the deep seated premonition
that nothing else guarantees a better route map to riches and
success. That also explains why IT has become the foremost
preference of the young generation as a career choice surpassing all
other professions like engineering, medicine and also
soon-to-be-former most preferred MBA degree. It has giving a focused
direction to the younger generation which sees it as an equaliser in
a country where academic choices have more to do with economics than
one's talent, aptitude and temperament combined.
It is in this perspective that we have to look at
the year 2000 which in retrospect would be remembered as the
eventful year which gave IT the deserved, but long delayed, priority
in Pakistan. The spider has just started weaving the intricate
cobweb and the things look promising for IT to fast replace
traditional trade and economy in Pakistan. So what justifies all
this collective and personal optimism?
The adrenalin flow is triggered mainly by the
priority which the current government is attaching to the IT and the
measures that prove its sincerity: Universal internet access is
available in over 400 cities and towns across the country today
compared to just 29 less than nine months ago. Recently the
government has promulgated an ordinance allowing a 15-year income
tax holiday to software exports till June 30, 2016. Software
exporters are also allowed now to retain 35 per cent of their
earnings in foreign exchange accounts. The venture capital rules
have been approved and venture capital companies are also granted a
7-year income tax holiday.
Accredition and quality testing councils are on
the way to monitor workings of IT institutions in both public and
private sector to ensure that they are imparting relevant and
quality education. Internet bandwidth costs for software companies,
IT institutions and cyber cafes have been slashed substantially and
so it is for the Internet Service Providers. However, ISPs have
passed only a portion of the benefit to their consumers.
The government has announced to establish
Software Technology Parks in other cities of the country including
Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, besides the one already functioning at
the federal capital Islamabad, by third-quarter this year at an
estimated cost of Rs 20 million.
The financial size of IT including training,
hardware/accessories and software (for both exports as well as
domestic use) registered a healthy growth of 62 per cent from $ 197
million in 1999 to $ 319 million in 2000. However, the otherwise
substantial growth doesn't tell the whole story as it conceals the
fact that sectoral share of hardware and software for both the
domestic as well as exports registered a decline. Except for
training whose sectoral share increased by 5 per cent to 41 in the
year 2000 over the previous year, the sectoral share of hardware
decreased by 2 per cent from 49 per cent to 47, domestic market of
software dropped by 1.6 per cent to 3.4 while software exports
declined from 10 to 9 per cent during the comparative period.
The financial size of Pakistani telecom industry
including listed phones, mobiles, Internet Service Providers,
telecom equipment producers and payphone registered a net growth of
6.7 per cent from Rs 158 billion in 1998-99 to Rs 175 billion in
1999-2000. However, ISPs' contribution in the financial size and
turn over of telecom industry was a negligible 4.6 per cent and 0.7
per cent respectively in 1999-2000.
The numbers of software houses and the volume of
software exports are on the increase. Last year number of software
houses of all shapes and sizes, from those employing 2-5 core
professionals — the developers — to those employing over 50,
increased to around 800 nationwide compared to some 660 a year
previously. Similarly, the volume of software exports registered a
48 per cent increase from $19 million to $28 million during the same
period. This fiscal it is expected to surpass $42 million. However,
domestic software market increased by just 10 per cent from $10
million to $11 million.
The alarmingly low retention of IT professionals
is another cause for concern. The local IT industry is able to
employ less than 7 per cent of some 110,000 IT professionals of all
types — 62,000 certificate holders, 20,000 1-2 year diploma
holders, 15,000 2-year degree programmers, 4,000 4-year degree
programmers and 9,000 e-commerce specialists — produced each year.
The situation can be much worse as the above figures do not include
25,000 MS office and 5,000 networking. Japanese Jujitsu wrestling is
the art of using opponent's strength against his ownself. Can the
same strategy be used to turn the weakness of local IT industry into
its very strength?