Education and unemployment

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ACCORDING to the Labour Force Survey for 2003-04 nearly 3.48 million people are without a job in Pakistan. This is said to be over eight per cent. While this is bad enough, a more serious cause of concern is that of those unemployed, 59.2 per cent are educated — and their ratio has been growing. In 2001-02 the educated comprised 55.1 per cent of the jobless.

This report reflects adversely on the economic planning of the government and its education policy. Most importantly such a high rate of unemployment has grave implications for social stability. If those without a job are educated, the frustration is even greater. Besides, it robs education of the incentive it should provide to the people generally: they can no longer be assured of a good job if they learn the literacy and numeracy skills.

The message that goes out is that if you don’t opt for education you have better chances of finding a job. As for the educated youth who fail to get employment it impresses on them the futility of education. It may not be easy to confirm but the impression is that among those committing suicide out of desperation caused by joblessness, most had acquired a degree of education.

How does one interpret these figures? The fact is that our economy and educational planning are not linked together. Each operates in isolation. This is strange because the idea of educating people is to train them for some skills so that they are absorbed in the national economy. Conversely, the failure to produce appropriately trained people leaves various sectors under-staffed or staffed with people without the right training.

It is not just lack of coordination between education and the industrial/service sectors. It is also the poor standards of education being imparted to the young students that leaves them unfit to be entrusted with any responsible job even in the field in which they have been trained.

Then, there are the unemployed who are highly trained but cannot find a job because all of them flocked to the institutions teaching a particular discipline that was the craze at the time thus creating a glut. Remember how there was an over-abundance of physicians and engineers several decades ago when the number of seats in the medical and engineering colleges were increased manifold while sufficient jobs were not created for them accordingly? If a solution has to be found to the problem of the educated unemployed it is necessary that a job bank/directory be created by the government. The idea would be to monitor the employment market. By asking the employers to send in data regarding the job positions they have and expect to produce, a description of the qualifications needed, and assessing its own needs, the government would be able to determine the job market trends.

By issuing advisories to educational institutions the government would be able to give guidelines about which subjects are in greater demand. Moreover, some intelligent career counselling may also guide the students in respect of job openings which would be available by the time they graduate. It is also important that a close link be created between industry and education.

The industrial/professional associations should be associated with the educational institutions especially in drawing up the syllabi and also giving some practical training to the students. At one time it was mandatory for industrial organizations to provide internships for a specified number of people every year.

There is so much scope for providing job-targeted education to students. In the early nineties, when business administration was attracting students in large numbers, there was no provision for specific training for would-be-bankers. Realizing the problems the banks faced, they cooperated with the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, to start courses in banking.

Other professional bodies have regrettably not been so proactive. Today, publishers are facing an acute problem in getting efficient and trained editors to help them produce quality books. They complain about this scarcity but the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association has never considered setting up a training institute or starting a course in publishing, bookselling and editing which would ultimately help the book publishing sector.

This is the age of life-long education. Gone are the days when a person who had completed his college/university education could sit back and look at his career as the road he had to travel on for the rest of his life until his retirement. With new technology rapidly replacing the old and new concepts coming up, a worker has to continuously keep abreast with his knowledge and training. That is why training workshops, conferences to update knowledge and seminars to reorient peoples skills are becoming so essential.

In spite of such continuous education, workers are inevitably retrenched when rationalization and streamlining of industries take place. When this happens on a large scale and jobs are lost in big numbers, the redundant labour can be retrained for other related sectors where new openings have been created. The government and industry should focus on retraining in the labour market when such a situation arises. Sweden, Germany and Britain, among others, have adopted training programmes to inject mobility in the labour market.

One problem with our education system, especially the higher education sector, is that it is churning out graduates in science, humanities and commerce who are not trained for any specific job. For instance, many of the graduates who end up teaching in schools have no idea of what pedagogy is. We produce more doctors than nurses although the ratio should be the other way around. The country has more than 108,000 registered doctors and only 46,000 registered nurses.

The professional colleges have a much higher intake of students (163,000) than the vocational and trade schools (94,000). As a result, a strange anomaly exists in the employment sector. You will get a very highly qualified architect to build a house but it would be difficult to find a good plumber to fix a leaking tap.

It is the same elitist psyche which characterizes our outlook on life. With little dignity being attached to labour, every one wants to go into a white collar job, even if one is not really qualified for it and remains unemployed for months.

It is a pity that we have still not understood the social and psychological dimension of unemployment. The economic aspect has really devastating consequences because a person without any means of livelihood cannot support his family. Unemployment leads to poverty and hardship. But there is also the social exclusion, the lowering of self-esteem and dejection that are the lot of the unemployed. It can lead to depression and eventually the suicide as has happened in many cases.