LAHORE - Acute shortage of skilled workforce badly hampering the export of furniture and furnishings products and this sector will need about 2 million skilled workers by 2022 as there will be higher growth in employment in 2017-22 due to swift changes in consumer preferences and penetration of organised furnishing services.

While talking to journalists here on Sunday, Pakistan Furniture Council (PFC) Chief Executive Mian Kashif Ashfaq said there is a dire need to provide training to non-skilled and semi-skilled workers of this industry, who are scattered in furniture hubs like Gujrat, Gojra, Peshawar and Chiniot, to boost furniture exports to $5 billion in five years. He said statistics show that out of 59 million potential workforce, 56.5 million is employed while 3.5 million (6 per cent) are unemployed. Over 90 percent of the unemployed labour consists of unskilled people, whereas remaining 10 percent are those who are educated but without having any skill, he added.

He said the market is moving rapidly towards organised segment and the share of organised employment will increase from 5 percent in 2017 to 13 percent by 2022 in the country. He said due to swift change in technology and innovation techniques, the furniture industry is in dire need of the skilled workers and professional designers. He said furniture and space design must amalgamate aesthetics, culture, history, procedures, manifestation, material, purpose and visualisation.

He said the workers and designers must learn to work with many applications; they need to develop a clear professional, theoretic and creative foundation with complete knowledge of the procedures, techniques and expressions associated with the design of space and furniture.” Good furniture designers must develop methods that enable them to work in an experimental, independent and artistic manner,” he added.

Answering a question, the PFC chief said, “We can increase the number of machines in short time but we lack skilled workers.” He said the vocational and technical institutes in the country hardly provide reasonable percent of the requirement of furniture and interiors designing industry. Export opportunities worth billions of dollars are wasted every year because of skill shortages, he added.

He said, “Basic need is for our educational and economic planners to look carefully on the needs of the industry and come up with courses that ensure that they develop a curriculum that addresses their skill force needs.”

Instead of industry-academia linkages, the government should first engage academia and industry separately to address human resource issues of the industry, he added.

He said If PFC achieves target of $5 billion exports then it will become the second largest industry after textiles whose exports are $14 billion. “This growth has paved way for skilled workers, furniture manufacturers and interior designers as they make their way towards gaining international clientele as well,” he added.

Ashfaq demanded the government to announce schemes like training workers, export refinance and soft loans for exporters to declare the furniture industry apart of the cottage industry and give it all the benefits and facilities that were given to the industry of sports goods and surgical instruments besides establishment of properly organised exclusive export centres for furniture at Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.