Youth in Pakistan plug into digital jobs of the future

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Omer Ahsan, a program trainee who is now successfully freelanacing online as a professional content writer. Photo Credit/Waleed Abbas

Omer Ahsan is a chartered accountant in the making from Waziristan. He first heard about the Youth Employment Program, a free digital skills program offered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board, from discussions on a group chat over Whatsapp, and applied immediately. Within two weeks of completing the digital skills program, Omer has built an online profile and has successfully earned money as a professional content writer.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is emerging from decades of instability and conflict, and would seem an unlikely place for digital workers to thrive. But with nearly 16 million youth in the province, and few available jobs locally, there is a pressing need to think outside the box in terms of equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to take on the future.

In 2015, together with the World Bank, a series of pilot programs were conducted to test a model of digital skill training for youth. Growing connectivity, cloud technology, and the emergence of new business outsourcing models have lowered the barriers to entry for global employment, even for youth in remote parts of Pakistan. The key ingredients to accessing this employment: access to the internet, basic skills, and awareness, and the pilot program tested different approaches to supporting youth to develop online work skills.

KP youth employment program participants are expanding their access opportunities through the program. Photo Credit/Waleed Abbas

Based on the results of this collaboration, the Government of KP launched the Youth Employment Program (YEP) in early 2016, offering free training for youth in freelancing. Around 50 students are accepted per training, and, based on their academic profiles classified into technical and non-technical groups. During the first 2 weeks, every trainee has to learn about the basics and essentials of freelancing which is a mandatory course requirement. Afterwards, those in the technical group with IT academic background are taught graphic design and website development skills. While the non-technical group members with varied but interdependent skills are trained in digital content writing and marketing through online multimedia platforms.

Samia Saeed is from Dir Lower, one of the remotest parts of the province. With a Masters in English Literature and teaching grade 2 students in a local private school, she always had the skills for content writing but lacked the knowledge of utilizing it to earn money. As she does a second review of her 800 words write-up on “Effectiveness of Online Learning”, Samia is excited about the prospect and potential of freelancing. “My first client was overall happy about the quality of the content I have drafted. I have been asked to review it further so that it becomes fit to print. That would be my first freelance working experience and I attribute that to YEP”.

YEP has been piloted in seven districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa so far, including Abbottabad, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat, Malakand, Mardan and Peshawar. The pilot phase will run until January 2017 with an aim to train 2100 students in digital freelancing, and will develop models to eventually expand digital skills to all youth in the province. YEP is the first publicly funded program in Pakistan that focuses on building practical skills to link youth with international job markets through cloud based technology.  In this way, the Government aims to bridge the widening gap between students who are graduating every year and jobs that are available locally.

For Muhammad Uzair Khan, logging into Fiverr every morning to review the status update on all the creative write-ups that he has posted on his profile has become a work ritual. Living in Peshawar and doing an MPhil in Biotechnology, he has learnt a great deal about content writing by polishing his skills for developing web blogs and digital content. “I always looked out for an opening that would enable me to offer my writing services to earn, but I just didn’t know how to make that work. With YEP, I have gained the practical knowledge and improved my writing skills to reach out to the world”.


Anna O'Donnell

Lead Social Development Specialist

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