By Usman Hanif
Published in The Express Tribune on May 20, 2023
KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has raised concerns over Pakistan’s information technology (IT) sector, revealing that a mere 10 % of IT graduates possess the necessary skills to secure employment in the industry.
The SBP’s half-year report on the country’s economic condition highlights the widening gap between academia and the IT industry, posing a significant threat to the sector’s future expansion.
Despite an increasing number of graduates entering the job market, a vast majority of them lack the competencies required to meet the evolving demands of the digital landscape. This disparity in skillsets has become a pressing issue that experts and policymakers are urging to address promptly.
Pakistan’s IT sector has been a crucial driver of economic growth, foreign investment, and potential exports. However, the current situation presents a critical juncture that could impede the sector’s progress and hinder the country’s long-term economic development.
According to the SBP report, Pakistan sees an annual supply of 20,000 to 25,000 fresh engineering and IT graduates. While this has provided a stable base for software exports and the start-up industry, evidence suggests that the country is now facing human capital constraints in the IT sector. These constraints, if left unaddressed, will hamper future growth in the industry.
A forthcoming survey being conducted by the SBP on start-ups reveals that a majority of IT firms face considerable difficulty in hiring skilled employees. This challenge is exacerbated by the limited resources of small and nascent IT firms, making it difficult for them to compete with larger, established companies that offer higher salaries and perks. The shortage of skilled resources is the biggest obstacle in achieving the desired growth in software exports and tech start-ups.
The report states that only 10% of IT graduates are employable due to weaknesses in both technical and soft skills. Soft skills, such as marketing, problem-solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship mindset, and English language proficiency, are crucial for engaging international buyers or investors. Experts emphasise the need to modernise the curriculum to meet international standards and better serve the demands of overseas clients.
Speaking to the Express Tribune, Waqas Ghani Kukaswadia, an ICT analyst at JS Global, suggests that recent IT graduates should be provided with short courses at the state level to help them prepare for employment following graduation. He also emphasises the importance of collaboration between the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and other stakeholders to address these challenges.
The divide between academia and the industry, along with other institutional gaps in digital skills, needs to be bridged. Investments are required not only to improve skills for existing technologies but also to develop expertise in frontier technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and the internet of things.
Topline Securities ICT Analyst Nasheed Malik told The Express Tribune that apart from redesigning the overall curriculum the government needs to engage ICT sector specialists and IT industry leaders to revamp computer science education. He added that the private sector could also help by arranging labs where the students could get hands-on experience.
Ranked at 146 of 158 countries, Pakistan’s score in the skills component of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD’s) Frontier Technology Readiness Index 2019 is 0.09 out of 1, significantly lower than Indonesia’s score of 0.28, India’s 0.31, Nigeria’s 0.33, Egypt’s 0.45 and Malaysia’s 0.46.
To address the skill gap, interim solutions offered by the public and private sectors include on-site and off-site IT skill boot camps, train-the-trainer modules, and training via social media platforms. The SBP suggests inviting top-tier global bootcamp companies to set up camps across the country under public-private partnership models.