CPEC & HR development: Is Pakistan ready for the future?

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor commonly known as CPEC is a game changer for Pakistan. To the struggling economy of Pakistan, unfortunately this has come at a time when the local labour market is short of qualified and skilled workers for many projects under CPEC. Although considered as Aladdin’s lamp for the revival of Pakistan’s slow paced economy; investment alone will not be able to bring prosperity as Pakistan is struggling to produce skilled labour for the new industries. Question that arises is that will Chinese companies afford to invest their time and money to train Pakistani people in China and how can the government of Pakistan tackle this skill shortage crisis on priority basis?
China has made massive investments in Gwadar, specifically, infrastructural projects that aim to connect Western China. The huge inflow of Chinese investment comes in the shape of concessionary and commercial loans amounting to US$45.69bn covering more or less all sectors of the economy (i.e. energy, trade, infrastructure, industry).
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan was absolutely right in asking various governments to work towards trade, economic and human skill development and this is indeed the need of the current turbulent times. Pakistanis look towards their leaders in driving them towards prosperity, socio-economic uplift and peace, which is only possible provided that the nation realizes its true potential and invest in their human skill development instead on war spending. Last year Pakistan allocated $11 billion for its defence, which is about 4 percent of its GDP.
Pakistan, a place where majority of the population is under the age of 21 years and has a potential to increase its GDP to around US $1.5 trillion, unfortunately faces unimaginable nightmare if it focuses its energies on other things instead of investing in its human capital, and taking into account that the population of Pakistan is well over 200 million, these numbers are staggering. But the region is dissipating its potential and faces a human capital crisis.
According to The World Bank’s Development Report, Pakistan ranks low in a list of countries “wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text.” Literacy rate of Pakistan is a mere 55% (literacy here means someone who can read or write his name, can sign or can count). In 2017-18, the Pakistani government’s budget allocated for education was a mere Rs. 902.7 billion.
Low human capital and lack of skill development has made a huge impact on the socio-economic growth and development of Pakistan and the figures certainly do not lie as reports suggest that Pakistan faces a huge employment crisis, which will surely have an impact on CPEC. Each year nearly 2.5 million Pakistanis enter the job market and unemployment rate stands tall at well over 16%. One major reason is the lack of qualified and skilled labour required to do particular set of work, which is based on modern standards and processes.
The skill deficit has resulted in joblessness and lack of innovation, therefore, short and long term programs needs to be immediately implemented. Access to education is different from access to quality education. Pakistan needs to collect and spend ample revenues to build the human capital, infrastructure, and institutions essential for stronger economic growth and faster poverty reduction.
Pakistan as well as China can surely advance their human skill development even with low levels of mutual government spending. Since Pakistan is in economic reforms, it can learn lesson for today’s developing economies through recuperating the business environment to attract private capital. Private companies these days seem to be investing in training and development of its human resources. Experts reveal that with talent shortages at a 15-year high on a global level, more organizations are looking to develop their workforce rather than recruiting from outside. The same principal can be applied through the government policies.
Besides building educational institutions, human skill development centres must also be created who should focus on specific industry related skills and behaviours. Crash courses can be designed for people of all ages to learn specific skills which can cater the needs of the current and future job demands created under CPEC. By focusing on upskilling people with practical steps at scale; government, its people and public/private sector can equally enjoy growth. So if the private sector companies are investing heavily in human skill development, then what the government should focus at?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, manufacturing, IT and computer related skills are high on the list, with the manufacturing and production sectors most likely to see growth in jobs. Human skill development should also be targeted towards frontline and customer-facing, engineering and administration roles. All of these will require conspicuous human skills, such as effective communication. Enabling a person to respond to queries in a specific manner, writing emails and making phone calls in a process oriented manner requires less time and will facilitate and equip a person currently in poverty to make good ends meet, besides giving a helping hand and push to the private and public sector.
Without a doubt, even in technical disciplines such as IT, the demand for soft skills is important, with most employers and industries rating this as a fundamental competence for their teams to have. Besides lacking technical skills, around 70 percent of Pakistan’s engineering graduates are not fluent in the English language and more than 3/4th of these students lack spoken English skills required for any job in the knowledge economy.
Due to CPEC, it’s also high time for the government to teach people Mandarin. These language skills does not require a person to go through the traditional educational system of primary, secondary and higher education in order to fulfil the market demands and the future language barriers and challenges can be tackled by launching special programs targeting these skill development.
Government has a critical role to play, mainly when it comes to policies and regulation, standard setting and selective financing of human skills development. The government policies should not expand role in prerequisite forms because this often comes as a cost of ignoring the public-private sector roles. In fact, it should explore innovative public-private partnerships like the ones in numerous developing countries that show us working examples of governments establishing an industry-driven system for competency-based training and standard setting, and developing a vibrant delivery between numerous levels of human development to allow people to move amongst education and vocational training systems – so that training is not seen as a dead end.
China has made great investments around Gwadar, nearly US$45.6 billion, with special focus on oil & gas, trade, automotive and various trade and it can certainly cannot lose its investment due to lack of professionals and technical workers.
Pakistan on the other hand relies on this investment and must establish technical institutions that can provide well trained technical staff required by the various fields. Pakistan needs to spend profoundly in its human resources by assigning more resources on improving the existing standards of education, language learning, skills development, vocational training and research and development.

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