PSDF manages skills development funding from the Government of Punjab, DFID UK and The World Bank. The Fund is shaping the future well-being of the poor and vulnerable youth of Punjab, with a population of 120 million, by training them in demand-driven and marketrelevant skills and supporting them in finding income-generating opportunities in Pakistan and beyond.

Q1: Can you tell us about PSDF as an organization, what is its main aim and purpose?

We define our purpose as shaping the future well-being of the poor and vulnerable youth, by giving them access to skills training of the highest standard so they can find sustainable employment and income-generating opportunities in Pakistan and beyond.

Our aim as an organization is to translate this purpose into actionable and measurable initiatives. For example,we define ‘poor and vulnerable’youth by their BISP household score, education attainment levels, age range and employment status.  The focus is sustainable employment, with income-generation being the end goal.

Q1.a: You spoke about skills training and access, what kinds of skills are provided and are the trainings free?

Yes, the trainings are offered free of cost to the trainees. We also give them a small stipend to cover transportation and meal costs, so they feel encouraged to start and complete training.

With regards to skills provided, we train in over 250 different demand-driven, market relevant trades, across 10 sectors; from Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills to electrician, mobile repair, chefs, to AutoCAD(Automatic Computer Aided Design) operators and logistic experts, amongst many others.

Q2: Do you see skills development as the main answer for developing Pakistan’s economy? If so, why?

Let’s look at demographics and education levels to understand the challenge better. From 210 million people, 36% of the population is from the age of 16 and 30 years, amounting to approximately 67 million youth in Pakistan. Additional 1.5 million entering the work force every year. While we have the advantage of a huge young population, only 12% of our youth go beyond matric to college level education. Bulk of the youth is less educated, part of the labor force, and in unskilled jobs. 

The only way to make them skilled and productive is to equip them with skills so they can move into entry level jobs.

Q3: What is the existing infrastructure with regards to skills development in Pakistan overall? Does PSDF aim to eventually replace that, or augment that?

The current infrastructure consists of the federal level apex body, NAVTTC (National Vocational& Technical and Training Commission) and a loose structure of Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutes (TVETs) provincially. The entire TVET sector is government owned and managed, leading to several challenges. It has not been very successful in meeting the needs of the private sector and provide sustainable employment to graduates.

PSDF does not have the national mandate or aim to replace the existing structure. It has augmented the existing system by providing and proving the effectiveness of fresh approach. We provide access to training by partnering with the private sector, provide demand-driven trainings, and fund trainings instead of investing in brick and mortar. Our funding model is also completely output-based, where training providers are only funded when they meet the contract to enrolment ratios, enrolment to completion, passing to employment ratios. Through this fresh approach, we’ve become a poster child on how skills training ought to be done in Pakistan.

Q4: What challenges does Pakistan in general face in terms of spurring growth in skills development?

There are a few big challenges, the first being resources: The national TVET sector needs a trillion rupees if it we were to close the skills training needs. It gets less than 2% of what is needed to train the youth in Pakistan. The second challenge is they lack the right structure and governance to bring about the change needed. The other roadblocks are quality and access, the difficulty of offering consistent quality of skills training to rural areas as well, where it’s needed the most.

Q5: Speaking of access, women, minorities and other vulnerable groups are usually underrepresented when it comes to skills development. Does PSDF aim to take steps regarding that?

PSDF takes special care in the skills trainings of these groups as marginalized segments of our society. Let’s take women as an example;our mandate is that 40% of all our trainings must be for women. This year alone, we will train over 40,000 women, with income-generation being the end goal. In cities, we target women with formal trainings linked to jobs, whereas in rural areas we think about ways to enhance self-employment. In livestock and agriculture sectors, our focus is on trainings that result in yield improvements.

We also target other vulnerable groups, such as youth with physical disabilities, with an aim of training over 5000 such youth this year. Similarly, we have dedicated programs for youth of other faiths and transgender community.

Q6: PSDF is heavily involved in the National Accelerator on closing the skills gap in Pakistan. How did that come about, and what are the goals there?

After the 4th Industrial Revolution, technology and automation made a variety of jobs redundant and obsolete; but there is also the realization that a different set of jobs are actually created. The National Accelerator is an initiative of the World Economic Forumwith the objective to form a two-fold action plan:to re-skill and upskill the current workforce to keep them relevant to the market; and to focus on the country’s emerging work force,thinking about how interventions can be made at school and college level to improve their readiness for the job market.

PSDF is the national coordinator for this initiative and manages it along with 6 co-chairs comprised of top government and private sector leaders. We are now in the process of building a community of business leaders around them and developing an action plan on the priorities mentioned earlier.  The Prime Minister launched the National Accelerator in July this year and it is our aspiration that he also announces the Action Plan in May 2020.

Q7: The current debate on talent development internationally is whether higher education or more focused skills development address the needs of 21st century work. What are your thoughts on this, especially within the context of Pakistan? Are both necessarily mutually exclusive?

I believe the high school element is critical, and that future skills requirements should be integrated into the curriculum at school level. The next step should be to improve the level of our colleges and universities. The challenge is that the youth pays a lot of money to attend low-tiered colleges and come out on the other side with no employable skills. It is compounded by the fact that economic growth has unfortunately been slow and there are fewerfull-time jobs in the market.

I believe that the young people must be directed to skills development programmes instead. However,we need to create pathways for youth so they can transition from skills education to traditional higher education. For example, if someone becomesgets a certificate or diploma as a technician, he or she must have the right and pathway to pursue an engineering degree, provided entry requirements are met. Currently, the skills track runs separately with a dead-end. There is no way for skilled people to have a pathway back to higher education.

Second,we collectivelyhave to build the image of skills in the country, so our young people choose skills education and become skilled workers.

Q8: Going forward, what do you envision as PSDF’s main goals in the next 5 years?

Our goal is to improve quality of, and access to skills trainings at an affordable cost. This can only be achieved through embracing technology and digitizing platforms. We are moving towards digitizing our curricula and hybrid training platforms; where we bring together human resource and technology to deliver skills trainings.

To accomplish this, we have to ensure that PSDF is also technology savvy and digitally enabled. We are taking our entire procurement,monitoring, engagement with training partners, on digital platforms.

Q9: Any end notes?

The success of our model at PSDF can be gauged from the fact that we are now being approached by emerging countries to replicate the PSDF model into their national skills training development programmes. We want to become a lighthouse internationally as to how skills work in Pakistan is done through PSDF.All of this is possible because a) we are guided by an independent Board of Directorsb) our entire management staff has been hired from the private sector andc) we have a strong results-driven orientation.


Jawad Khan is Chief Executive Officer of Punjab Skills Development Fund.