LAHORE - The Punjab youth entrepreneurship programme will be launched next month, under which the youth will be provided grants – not loans – to execute their innovative ideas and earn respectable livelihood, said Minister for Youth and Sports Muhammad Taimoor Khan while speaking at a policy dialogue on youth employability at a local hotel on Tuesday.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and Indus Consortium jointly organized the event under ukaid-funded project “Empowering Youth for Employment and Entrepreneurship”.

The minister said that 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population was youth which was a positive omen for future prosperity of the country. “It is, however, also a challenge for the government. Fulfilment of our youth’s aspirations is responsibility of the government. It’s a huge challenge. We can’t provide government jobs to all. Therefore, our focus is on imparting skill development and promoting entrepreneurship. Youth directorate is also being established to launch the program,” Taimoor elaborated.

Eminent parliamentarians, academia, corporate executives, university students, youth representatives from various districts across the province and members of civil society participated in discussions probing roles of policy makers, private sector and academia pertaining to issues, challenges and pathways of youth employability.

Representative of the youth handed over their demands with regards to the Punjab youth policy to the provincial minister. The recommendations call for Punjab youth policy to be thoroughly reviewed and redrafted so as to addressing the issues and challenges being faced by uneducated and rural youth as the current version of the policy focuses more on educated and urban youth. The issues of transgender, differently abled and religious minority youth must also be more effectively addressed in Punjab Youth policy.

Purpose of the dialogue was to bring the major stakeholders together to initiate the discussion on the real time challenges faced by youth with regards to employments and entrepreneurship and how the provincial youth policy is addressing those challenges. The dialogue provided a platform to primary actor (youth) and stakeholder including donors, government officials, UN agencies, TVET providers, private sector representatives and members of NGO/CSOs to discuss and recommend innovative ideas and solution for livelihoods enhancement of youth.

Ayesha Khan, country director of Hashoo Foundation, said that the very name of youth epitomizes hope. “Our youth’s access to quality education, however, is a structural challenge which needs to be addressed by the major stakeholders. Private and corporate sectors can resolve the issues revolving around youth’s employability. The government just needs to provide the right kind of environment for private sector to flourish,” Ayesha added.

Shahid Khan, partnership portfolio coordinator of VSO, said that a multi sectoral approach towards the growing employability concerns in Pakistan is the need of the hour. “VSO, therefore, provides a platform where the government, corporate giants, CSOs and the media can join hands and come up with their valuable inputs to address this issue. This policy dialogue will prove to be a stepping stone in providing direction to the largest demographic segment of our society,” Shahid anticipated.

Mavia Malik, Pakistan’s first transgender news anchorperson, highlighted the plight of her community in social upward mobility. She said it took her immense struggle to reach where she is now. Mavia, and other representatives of transgender youth, demanded from the government to increase job quota for their community.

Hussain Jarwar, Indus Consortium’s chief executive officer, said that despite the multiplicity of problems, it is still right time for government to take some pragmatic steps. “Of the 15 largest countries in the world in terms of population, Pakistan has by far the youngest population. Government should not regard the young population as a burden but an asset. We need to bear in mind that the destiny of nations is in the hands of youth,” Hussain hinted.

Saadia Sohail Rana, member treasury MPA, termed lack of research centres in universities a major reason of country’s scientific and technological backwardness. “Now the government is committed to establish state-of-the-art research centres in all public sector universities,” Saadia said.

Bushra Butt, PML-N’s lawmaker, stressed the need to continue internship program initiated and expanded by the previous government. Former MNA Meena Jafar Leghari emphasized upon the youth not to chase degrees but their passion.

Zehra Naqvi, PTI’s MPA, termed Pakistan a blessed country for having a huge population of youth. “Youth of Pakistan was denied its due rights in the past but now the government is committed to make amends. Just today I’ve tabled a resolution in the provincial legislature to discuss and develop the pathways for progressive career counselling of the youth,” Zehra informed.

While praising the role of civil society organizations in highlighting the social issues, Fiza Qureshi, manager program implementation of Indus Consortium, termed the lack of career counselling opportunities a serious concern. “Almost every parent in Pakistan wants his kids to become doctor or engineer. This is a worrying trend and must be discouraged. Every child should be allowed and encouraged to join the profession that matches their aptitude,” Fiza added.