Dec 20 - 26, 20

Technical education and vocational training is essential to alleviate poverty as well as to minimise unemployment rate in Pakistan. This will also support the government's poverty reduction programme and lessen the reliance on traditional means of employment generation. Agriculture sector employs 45 per cent of the total workforce depending mainly on non-value added activities. Self-employment that is an added advantage of giving vocational and technical training is a plausible mould to take in labour force expanding rapidly, thereby giving rise to the economic activities.

Technical education and vocational training remains a neglected employment generation strategy in Pakistan. It has also been afflicted with the same fate entire education sector has gone through. Fund constraints and implementation of adequate government policies are but the two obstacles in the way of promotion of vocational training something equal to conventional education.

No doubt, it has been given importance to increase employability of youngsters that constitute the major portion of the total population. Even then, it has yet to emerge a choice of education as attractive as the higher schooling. Especially, diploma programmes that are run in specialised technical institutes to make students at least abler of income generation within four-year after matriculation, are not charming to youth or parents who want to have their kids employable as well as aspirants for further education. One of the reasons is fragile connection between technical and degree-awarding institutes.

Majority of state-run mono- and poly-technical institutes offer four-year diploma courses in a range of engineering disciplines to the matriculated students. Equivalent to higher-schooling certificates, these diplomas have majors like automobile, electronics, electrician, etc. Strangely enough, if diploma holder seeks to get further education of higher learning, he or she has no or sparse option pertaining to his/her specialised field. Automobile trade that is a popular specialisation in diploma programme is offered as a degree programme in a very limited number of institutes in Pakistan. In Karachi that is the largest city and has relatively, more headcounts of urban poverty in the country has only one government-administered NED university offering BE in automobile. Government technical institutes offer B.Tech in civil technology, electrical technology, and mechanical technology. Similarly, emerging technologies in aviation field demand more institutions of training and higher education to develop human resources in this field. Pakistan International Airlines run four-year diploma programme for matriculated students in avionics and other trades. Civil Aviation Authority also conducts technical training. However, very few universities in Pakistan offer advance education in aviation technologies making several potential diploma holders deprived of skill-advancement. In Karachi, there is not a single university having avionics as specialisation subject despite the city having huge air traffics compared to other cities in the country.

There are more than 250 institutes operating under Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, offering technical short courses, diplomas, and degree programmes. Private sector is also establishing technical institutes to meet requirement of skilled workforce in textile and other industries. However, there is a need to diversify trades and occupations offered in technical education and vocational training institutes to keep workforce abreast with the emerging technologies.

There is also a need to widen basket of courses for education-for-income. Private sector should be encouraged to introduce training and education that may become sources of income in adulthoods. Private institutions offer dynamic training courses, but their fee structure is seldom compatible to the average income bracket. Funding is a major issue. Fine arts and commercial designing should be offered for fees affordable to low-income group. The art creations in Pakistan are well recognised internationally and paid handsomely. There is a lack of support to the local artists and no platform to promote local arts in the art-savvy foreign markets.

The diversification of vocational training subjects and government focus would bring down poverty and unemployment rate. The shift of focus to develop other sectors to make them viable is important because of the diversification that may open up sources of income generations. This is also essential because overreliance on one sector to create employment opportunities can sometime backfire. For example, that would exactly happen in case of information technology. A score of people came out of the mushroomed IT institutes with no or less employability in the job markets. This trend of mass production continues while unfortunately quality is least concerned. Net disinvestment of $95 million from IT sector in 2009/10 is a wakeup call for the planning and development commissions to devise polices in compliance with the merits of the alternative sectors.

Inflation has not left its double-digit position because of the unrestrained rise in prices of food items. It stood at 15 percent in November. Baskets of products considered to measure difference in prices of consumer items over the period underwent across the board price surge. Not only foods and oil that underwent inflation spike, but also all other hundred of products witnessed a push in the month of November. According to Federal Bureau of Statistics, prices of good and services rose 15.5 percent in November 2010. Poverty is rising due to untamed food inflation.

Government allocated Rs70 billion to the needy people under Benazir income support programme in 2009/10 budget. This social protection scheme targeted 5.5 million families distributing Rs1000 per month to each. Extending monetary helps to the people is just a temporary solution to the long-lasting hardships of people. Besides, the safety net is targeted towards rural population while vulnerable or poor segments in Urban areas remain trapped in the grinding poverty. The urban poverty is showing an upward trend, notes the Labour Force Survey. Unemployment rate stood at 5.5 percent in 2008/09 due to mainly rise in urban unemployment to 7.1 percent.