Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Technical Education

In Pakistan technical education and vocational training systematization focuses on the development of human resource in terms of skill up-gradation, which is demand-driven, meeting the current needs and hence unapt, obsolete and not futuristic.

Although the market and its needs ought to be taken into account, they cannot be the sole guideline for vocational training systems and policies. Markets have short-term views and reasons which if followed unconditionally, may lead to decisions apparently correct for immediate purposes but counterproductive in the long term. The necessary matching of training supply and demand at micro level must not be taken as a substitute for serious long-term policies and preparation our youth for up and coming technological changes.

Pakistan’s technical institutions should contribute to the strengthening of industry and to the full and sustainable development; promote technical education for industries of today and tomorrow; and impart vocational training in line with modern technologies.

In the coming decade we will see body amplifiers that expand human endurance and strength. We will see novel devices that do not rely on wheels, where our own limbs are augmented, where we can traverse very rough terrains with a very high metabolic economy or efficiency. The forecast is that people for certain situations will not want to use wheels anymore, because their legs, augmented by technology, far outperform wheeled vehicles. The technologies—from carbon nano-tube microprocessors and self-driving cars to biosensors and quantum cryptography—are works in progress. Each development holds the promise. The question that can be asked: Are we preparing our workforce for such changes?

A great revolution is coming next—Nanotechnology is a revolution more radical than the industrial revolution is probably occurring. All scientists unanimously agree that this is going to be the largest breakthrough of 21st century.

The present economies are largely based on the scarcity of (materialistic) products. This kind of economy will therefore quite likely disappear almost completely. Within ten years nano-products will dominate a multi-trillion dollar market. All conventional industries will be turned to obsolete chunk.

India prepared its workforce in IT. Pakistan focused on supplying unskilled labor to Gulf and did not adopt IT in management and production functions. It is once again ignoring the upcoming technologies.

Demographic factor is another catalyst for strategic change. Today, national and global demographic changes are a potential catalyst for a long-term systemic imbalance.

According to the Employment Policy Foundation of the USA, a systemic labor shortage is expected to transform the workplace over the next 25 to 30 years as the gap between aging population and entrants of college-educated workers widens due to the senior population’s mass retirements. If the US economy continues to grow at three percent per year—the economy’s consistent average since 1948 — the workforce will have to increase by 58 million employees over the next three decades if the same rate of productivity is maintained. Yet, if the current population trend continues, the number of workers will only increase by 23 million. This trend would create an overall US labor shortage of 35 million workers. Most of these projected shortages are expected to involve workers having specific skills. To counter this systematic shortage the US will import skilled labor force from Asia and Africa.

Europe’s total fertility rate is about 1.4—well below the 2.1 replacement level. Over the next 15 years, West European economies will need to find several million workers to fill positions vacated by retiring workers. European countries will thus accommodate growing immigrant populations (chiefly from Muslim countries). Otherwise they will face a period of protracted economic stasis that could threaten the huge successes made in creating a more United Europe.

The aging of Japan’s work force will reinforce dependence on migrated workers from South East Asia.

The demographic structures in the West and Japan over the next decade produce considerable challenges to education planning and vocational training in Pakistan. Herein lies a potential training challenge for preparing the workforce meeting the technological needs of those countries.

Migration has the potential to help solve the problem of a declining work force in the USA, Europe and, to a lesser degree, Japan and probably will become a more important feature of the world of 2020, even if many of the migrants do not have legal status.

The likely emergence of Pakistan as a new major Asian player—similar to the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the early 20th century—can transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those of the previous two centuries.

Is Pakistan ready to prepare its workforce for meeting the needs of USA, Europe and Japan? How Pakistan exercises its growing power and whether it relates competitively in the international system depends largely on the way it plans (or plans not in the slightest)?

Pakistan must prepare workers for offshore employment. It needs to develop a workforce at par with the workforce of industrialized countries; respond to the industry demands of today and of the future; prepare workforce to meet the demographic gap of the West; push a program to modernize the system of technical education and vocational training; increase the supply and productivity of skilled labor in key sectors of the economy; increase, relevance, internal efficiency and quality of existing technical education and vocational training; and least but not the last, improve the opportunities for gainful employment in the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

According to Neil Edmunds, former president of the American Vocational Association, those who will lead vocational education into the 21st century must be shareholders in a unifying vision; these leaders must understand the broad scope of vocational education. They must be skilled communicators; they must be as comfortable outside the educational setting as within it, moving easily among people from government, education, and business. The question: does Pakistan offer this leadership? (