Prof Abida Haleem Khan

After $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) deal, Pakistan has attained another landmark in her 68 years history by getting full membership of the powerful Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a group dominated by China and Russia and also including former Soviet Republics in Central Asia.

While announcing the decision at the opening session of 15th Summit of SCO Council of Heads of member states at UFA (Russia), President Vladimir Putin said that organization was expanding for the first time since its creation in 2001 as counter weight to the Western Alliances.

SCO membership potentially offers Pakistan access to the energy resources of Central Asia. SCO membership coupled with CPEC would open doors of tremendous opportunities for Pakistan to build her strong bases for economic development and also offer critical overland and maritime routs for trade and energy connectivity within SCO region and beyond.

During the Summit proceedings, Chinese President Xi-Jinxing had shown his personal commitment to the objectives of CPEC.

With the new emerging scenario Pakistan has entered into a new era of global cooperation and strategic importance. The CPEC is a development mega project aims to connect Gwadar port in south western Pakistan to China’s North Western autonomous region of Xingjian via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. It will run about 3000 kms from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated $ 46 b with the entire project to be completed within years. The said corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk route initiative.

According to a western think-tank report, this is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet and corridor is expected to be operational within three years and will be a strategic game changer in the region, which would go a long way in making Pakistan a rich and stronger entity than ever before.

It can be a turning point in making our country prosperous as a whole and should be geared up to grasp this historic opportunity. China is investing huge money to make this dream a reality on our lands. Huge manpower would be required to complete it within stipulated time period. Millions of skilled and semi-skilled work force would be deputed to start this mega project.

Saudi Arabia has also planned a number of projects where millions of skilled workforce would be required. Qatar has already announced to construct a new city for holding FIFA World cup 2023. CM Punjab has set the target to export two lakh skilled and semi-skilled workers to Qatar, Dubai and other gulf countries for completion of construction projects in next four years.

On the instructions of Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, a plan is being evolved for catering the said demand of the skilled and unskilled workers. The Government’s Skills Development Sector Plan is holistic and addresses each of these elements of design. It sets itself the target of training 2 million workers by 2018.

The Punjab Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (P-TEVTA) under its chairperson lrfan Qaiser Sheikh has taken lead in transforming the Authority into a vibrant body by involving industry in planning and decision making process. By adopting Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode for running the TEVTA, Chairperson has taken right and timely decision of starting three and six months duration short curses to train skilled manpower as required by the market. Introduction of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Program is another step in the right direction which is meant to certify the skills of those who are already working in the skill market but without any certification. It has brought a large number of non-recognized workforces into the fold of certified skilled workforce ready to explore employment opportunities in the local job market as well as abroad. Now Tevta is working on both ends of the industry by tapping Market for skills training and Market for skilled labor.

According to Sheikh, we have not restricted ourselves to increasing the supply of skilled labor alone; but also exposed to the challenge of improving the economic and non-economic returns to skills training. A special cell has been established at TEVTA secretariat to manage the export of trained youth to Middle East labor markets.

According to fair estimates, 1.4 million skilled workforces has been demanded for FIFA World Cup 2023 in Qatar and construction of infrastructure, stadiums, city rail, hotels and other construction projects. To make it a serious point TEVTA has embarked on an aggressive plan for the provision of required skilled workforce.

Keeping in view the said land scape in the local and Gulf labor market Government of the Punjab has very intelligently planned to grasp this grand opportunity and make it a point for the socio-economic betterment of the Pakistani youth. Punjab Skill Development Strategy 2015-18 is the outcome of the said thinking. It has set the target of training two million youth by 2018. Tevta has started pursuing to complete its task of training 541,128 by 2018 as fixed in Punjab Skill Development Strategy 2015-18.

Chairperson TEVTA Irfan Qaiser Sheikh has assured CM Punjab of completing the task of training 541,128 youth within the time frame prescribed by his government. Shahbaz Sharif has commended the efforts made by Sheikh to pursue the targets given by him and turn P-TEVTA into a potent and vibrant body providing demand driven skills to the youth of the Punjab and making all-out efforts for the placement of its pass-outs.