Islamabad - One of Pakistan’s biggest challenges is bridging the enormous skill gap and providing more employment opportunities. The low skill level in the labor force is a major constraint in achieving economic growth, job creation, a competitive manufacturing industry, and poverty alleviation in Pakistan. A lot needs to be done to improve technical and vocational education and training in people. The country’s current technical and vocational education network covers a very small proportion of the population and the skills needed for the economy to improve.  This marks a dire need to empower people and communities with vocational and employable skills. The USAID-Punjab Youth Workforce Development (PYWD) project aims to fill that gap by empowering young men and women from unprivileged background to acquire interpersonal and technical skills. These people then learn how to build a work life outside their homes and villages, open and manage bank accounts, and learn about their rights and responsibilities as workers. This initiative has not only enabled many people to learn new skills and get employed but also to start their own businesses, become self-reliant and lead their families to prosperity. Here is a story of how people’s lives have changed through skill development under the PYWD.

Turning disabilities to possibilities

Sumaira was only seven when she was diagnosed with Thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder. A resident of Basti Umer Wali, Shah Jamal in district Muzaffargarh, she was unable to go to school due to frequent nights at the hospital. Fifteen years later, Sumaira still undergoes a blood transfusion every two weeks.  Ever since her diagnosis, Sumaira has witnessed her parents struggle to meet the costs of her medical treatment. Her family’s existing financial resources started depleting due to the enormous medical expenses. Sumaira’s father doubled his efforts to sustain his income by working longer hours but the father of six had too many responsibilities to take care of.

Growing up, she realized that she couldn’t let her father take the responsibility alone. With no skills and only primary level education, her quest to find means of financial support became very difficult. In the meanwhile, she heard about the training and job opportunities being provided by USAID-Punjab Youth Workforce Development (PYWD) project from one of her old teachers. Eager to improve the family’s financial situation and enthusiastic to learn a new skill, Sumaira convinced her parents to let her join the training centre. She enrolled in the PYWD project’s team in the dressmaking course at Umer Enterprises, a school uniform supplier based in her local community at Basti Umer Wali.

The program provides on-the-job training leading to jobs, in partnership with local businesses. Enrolled youth who undergo training are then offered full-time placement in various technical and vocational trades.  The USAID-Punjab Youth Workforce Development (PYWD) project’s skill based training programs and interventions are playing a key role to transform the livelihoods of 10,000 marginalized youth (including 35% females), aged 16 to 29 in the southern Punjab districts of Multan, Lodhran, Bahawalpur and Muzaffargarh. The project’s partnerships with the public-private partner organizations and the business community are providing skilled labour to the industry, enabling job placements for project beneficiaries, contributing to increased economic growth.

Sumaira completed her on-the-job training and landed a job at Umer Enterprise in Muzaffargarh. While the job instilled confidence and hope in her, it also helped her earn an income. “I feel better now when I contribute to my treatment. Although my parents don’t complain paying for it, I feel like it is unfair for my siblings who are deprived due to my medical expenses. I want to take my own responsibility too. It makes me feel better. I hope my story inspires others to see a ray of hope for a better and more independent future,” says Sumaira who is not ready to let her illness come in her way.