Muhammad Umair Qureshi is manager monitoring in Ignite, National Technology Fund and also heading the DigiSkills.pk initiative. He is computer engineer by profession and received his Master’s degree in Telecommunications from UK. He is innovative and goal-driven Project Manager with more than 14 years of rich experience of project management in multiple industries i.e. Government/Funding organizations, Research & Development, and ICT. He has been associated with Ignite since last 8 years and during this tenure he has successfully managed several technical research & development project and rolled out national level human resource capacity building projects including, Prime Minister National ICT Internship Program, National Incubation Centers etc.

1)  Can you tell us about the DigiSkills.pk program?

On 1st August 2018, Ignite, National Technology Fund launched a large scale national Digital Skills (DigiSkills) Training Program to provide one (1) million trainings across the country over a period of 2 years approximately. The DigiSkills.pk Program is aimed at equipping our youth, freelancers, students, professionals, etc. with knowledge, skills, tools & techniques necessary to seize the opportunities available internationally in online jobs market places and also locally to earn a decent living. The program aims at not only developing key specialized skills, but also imparting knowledge about various freelancing and other employment and entrepreneurial opportunities available internationally and locally. Due to limited employment opportunities, it is essential for upcoming workforce to have necessary knowledge and abilities to grab such opportunities. This is envisaged to be achieved through a national level program, which will train target audiences in freelancing and other specialized skills. The program aims to increase:

•              Number of individuals working as freelancers in the country

•              Number of hours worked per freelancer

•              Earnings per hour or per project for freelancers

•              Household incomes

•              Financial inclusion

•              IT exports

•              Number of experts in specialized skills

2) How was this programme conceived?

DigiSkills.pk was conceived by Ignite’s Board of Directors under the auspices of Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication.

3) Who is it for? How can one become a part of it?

DigiSkills.pk program is for everyone. Any Pakistani can enrol in DigiSkills.pk. there are no prerequisites for registrations like, qualification, age, gender, city etc. anyone who has access to internet on mobile or computer and can understand basic English can join DigiSkills.pk

4) How does this programme work? Tell us about the processes at DigiSkills.pk

The DigiSkills Program comprises of three interlinked projects:

DigiSkills Training Project The key scope of training project is to provide a web-based training platform and Learning Management System, along with development of necessary training content to provide one million free online training courses. Under this project, trainees are offered the opportunity to obtain free online training in areas of “Freelancing” and “Specialized Skills” all across Pakistan.

DigiSkills Outreach Project Outreach is a very important and essential component of overall DigiSkills Training Program. DigiSkills Outreach project aims accessing target audiences and enabling registration of one million trainees on the DigiSkills Training Portal in the most effective and low-cost methods available. Outreach project works closely with Training Project to develop its outreach content and strategy for the outreach channels e.g. Digital (SEO, SMS, Mobile Ads, Web Banners), Print (Ad, Press Releases, Posters), Electronic (Call Centres, Radio, Radio Program), and PR (Launch Events, Influencer Endorsement, Roadshows, Blogs, Articles).

DigiSkills Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Project The M&E projecthelpsIgnite in monitoring and evaluating real-time progress of “DigiSkills Training Project” & “DigiSkills Outreach Project” and incorporating the findings and lessons learnt on an on-going basis to enable “continual learning” and improvement. The primary objectives of M&E are:

•   To provide expert evaluation and analytical services through an online Performance Monitoring System

•   Data gathering and analysis to enable data driven decisions

•   Report real-time progress of all key components of “DigiSkills Training Project” and “DigiSkills Outreach Project”

•    Measuring project effectiveness, relevance and efficiency

•     Collecting, managing, and utilizing indicators and metrics to assess performance, ascertain progress in attaining desired results, and evaluate whether implementation is on track.

5) What courses are being offered at DigiSkills.pk? How did you decide on providing training in these particular courses and how important are they in the digital earning arena?

Following online Courses are offered free-of-cost on DigiSkills.pk. trainee can pick up to two courses in a single batch whereas Freelancing module is mandatory for every trainee.

Course    Content Hours

Digital Literacy                     12

Digital Marketing                  24

Engine Optimization             24

AutoCAD                            24

WordPress                          24

Quick Books                        24

Graphic Design                    24

Creative Writing                   24

E-Commerce Management     24

Freelancing                           24

The above courses were selected after thorough research, expert advice, studying other global programs and available opportunities on online marketplaces. After learning these skills from DigiSkills.pk, trainees can use marketplaces like fiverr, upwork, guru, people per hour etc. to grab the projects and start earning. Apart from these marketplaces, trainee can start its own business, for example ecommerce, website designing, creative writing etc.  or can join any organization based on his skills learnt from DigiSkills.pk.

6) How is DigiSkills.pk different from other online learning platforms?

DigiSkills.pk is unique from other online training programs in many ways. The key strategic design element of this project is training delivery method i.e. complete training is offered online with support from Coaches. There are no classrooms or blended training methods used. Online training is provided via a dedicated web portal integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) where high quality engaging content is available free of cost. One of the biggest challenges for an online training initiative is the lack of trainee engagement after registration resulting in low retention rate. In order to overcome this issue a complete support system has been developed, with a dedicated team of coaches, with an aim to enhance the engagement of trainees and provision of prompt and timely response to their queries. The queries from trainees can be submitted through IVR, Chatbot, Discussion Board and Forums etc.

Since the target audience of the program are diverse, it was essential that all the training content is developed in mixed English and Urdu language. This is to ensure a larger participation in the program and also to enhance learning and understanding of majority of the participants.

Another key design element of the Project is data gathering, consolidation and analysis capability to enable monitoring and evaluation. Since DigiSkills.pk is multifaceted program, it is essential to capture and analyse relevant data on an on-going basis during the execution phase of the project. This not only enhances the probability of successful achievement of the project targets but also minimizes inherent risks and further contribute towards informed decision making and on-going project improvement through the incorporation of lessons learnt.

7) How do you ensure diversity & inclusion in your program?

Since 51% population of the country are females DigiSkills.pk emphasizes more on them. Special events for females are organized on community level to create the awareness about the program. So far, 22% trainees are females which are increasing in every batch.  Apart from this, DigiSkills.pk is also reaching the marginalized communities within the country like, minorities, persons with disabilities, transgenders etc. Furthermore,we are approaching remote areas of the country to provide information about the program and motivate local people to enrol and start decent earnings.

8)Do you work with any support organizations & collaborators for the growth of DigiSkills.pk?

DigiSkills.pk collaborates with other organizations as well in spreading the message to people of Pakistan. ‘Friends of DigiSkills.pk’ is a group of organizations which are supporting and collaborating with us, few of them are Akhuwat, PTCL, Pakistan Bait ul Maal, STEP, DYKB etc.

9) How do you measure the success of your program after 1 year?

DigiSkills.pk is getting overwhelming response from all over the country. Following are the enrolment target vs actual enrolments;

Batch      Target Enrolments                Actual Enrolments

Batch-1   20,000   30,804

Batch-2   30,000   81,119

Batch-3   100,000 200,331

Batch-4 (Enrolments Open on1st July 2019)   160,000 147,680 (continued)

The numbers above are showing the success of DigiSkills.pk in less than one year, however apart from this, many trainees have also started earning after learning skills from DigiSkills.pk. As per recent survey of trainees of Batch-1 & Batch-2, total $306,252 earnings were reported. The immense response to DigiSkills.pk and massive earnings in just one year shows the huge success of the program.