In an interview with a local news channel, Systems Limited Chief Asif Peer stated that freelancers might bring between $500 million to $1 billion into Pakistan. He said that, in bringing freelancers into the official record through incentives, the contributions of the ICT sector would near $3 billion annually.
“We’re currently at an annual growth rate of 40% to 50%, which means in five years, we can cross $10 billion worth of ICT export earnings,” said Peer. “We first need to tackle the issue of talent supply, which is insufficient to reach this goal. Since COVID-19, the demand for freelancers has increased faster than the supply of trained or graduating workers. You need to graduate or train 40,000 programmers annually to add $1 billion to ICT exports in Pakistan.”
According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in the Government of India, ICT exports during FY 2021 in the most populous democracy in the world were $172 billion. A 2019 National Association of Software and Service Companies survey found that 1.5 million people graduate with engineering degrees every year in India. According to some estimates, Pakistan produces under 3% of India’s output, and that too at a questionable quality.
For verification, check how many Fortune 500 companies have appointed C-suite executives that graduated from Pakistani universities. Now check the same for India. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) graduated co-founders and chief executives of the $75 billion worth InfoSys, $40 billion worth Flipkart, and $5.5 billion worth Zomato. There is no equivalent executive graduate from KSBL, IBA, or LUMS.
Can this be fixed?
Given that government intervention and reform is a pipe dream, the consensus is that market leaders must partner with educational institutions to ensure courses match the needs of the current and future job market. Multi-million dollar companies such as Systems Limited and Walee have signed MoUs with universities nationwide to introduce industry-academia collaboration classes.
Venture accelerator Z2C Limited launched fast-track courses with various educational institutions nationwide to speed up the process. This year, they founded the Creators Academy with Off The School (OTS) in January, the ACE Digital School in February, and the ZEAL Future Enablement Program at Ziauddin University in March.
OTS runs a school within a mosque of Jamshed Town where nearly two thousand disadvantaged students are enrolled, out of which most hail from lesser-developed areas. At a nominal fee of PKR 1,000-1,500 for entire 6–12-week programs on various in-demand skill sets that will enable you to find job opportunities like English Language, Photoshop, Digital Marketing, Programming, etc., all being taught by working professionals.
The program recently graduated 12 students out of 25 attendees under a training program for Google web design, which lasted six weeks. Three graduates were hired by Activ8, the largest offshore hub for creative, media, and digital projects, under the Publicis Groupe.
Since Activ8 works on campaigns for Publicis Groupe clients in the MENA region, the ACE Digital School trains new hires to reach regional benchmarks and partake in on-the-job training. This is the accelerated hiring at Activ8, which onboards roughly 15 new employees every month, as quality digital marketing talent is scarce in the MENA region.
The ZEAL Future Enablement Program at Ziauddin University brings together Activ8 and digital agency East River to facilitate 12-week sprint course training that covers digital marketing, creative strategy, media optimization, and various planning tools.
Both Systems and Z2C would be better off integrating with freelancer networks such as Linkstar to facilitate the demand side of the equation once supply has been generated.
Like India, which has over 20 campuses nationwide for IIT, the universities of Pakistan will also need to build more physical campuses. To solve for limited seats on campus, they would also need to introduce their massive open online courses similar to MIT, edX, and Coursera.
Reforms will be required to ensure more children go to school, as will support for initiatives such as the Orange Tree Foundation and The Citizens Foundation, which support college-going and pre-college students, respectively. In solving the global STEM talent crunch, Pakistan will enable its economic empowerment and uplift underserved communities.