attling with a full plate of issues like energy crisis, poverty, corruption and international debts since the past 15 months, the PTI government is slowly inching forwards to set the course of the country right.One of the few positive initiatives that the government has taken is its continued focus on information technology and its promotion, the key step being the Digital Pakistan program. The initiative includes plans to build digital cities in the country, launch of mobile applications for various federal institutions, an online complain cell for public complaints, as well encouraging global Fintech leaders like PayPal and Amazon to start operations in Pakistan.According to a recent survey done by CNBC, Pakistan is among the top 10 countries in the world that have skilled labor for emerging global IT outsourcing needs. The country’s current IT exports are around $800 million to $1 billion, but per the prime minister’s vision,

Pakistanis don’t realize the importance of education and education profession is still considered second rate when compared with medicine, engineering, law and even business administration

 

Pakistan aims at raising exports to $10 billion by the end of 2023. In order to tap the global outsourcing market, the prime focus of government is on generating skilled digital resources. And for this reason, the government has launched an ambitious program called DigiSkills.The digital training program has been launched in collaboration with Virtual University’s time-tested LMS systems. The whole program is funded by Ignite-National Technology Fund which is formally known as National ICT R&D fund. Since its inception, DigiSkills Training Program (DSTP) is leaving no stone unturned to equip the youth of Pakistan with digital skills that are necessary to grab online job opportunities available internationally and locally. To know more about the program we interviewed Dr Zafar Alvi, the project director of DSTP. Here is what the program is all about.

 

Tell us about your about academic and professional career?

I am an engineer by training from UET. I served UET for some time and joined the civil service after taking CSS exams. I later left for my PHD from University of Bradford and majored in AI (artificial intelligence). When I came back, I started working as a faculty member at FAST where I built my first professional project of an inventory management system. After that, I joined CresSoft and worked for their US office for some years and came back to Pakistan and served Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited’s IT department for 14 years. After retirement, I got this amazing opportunity to use my experience to train the youth of Pakistan.

 

Do you think DigiSkills can make an impact on Pakistani youth?

When I joined DSTP, I did not have much idea about the impact of this program, but today I can assure you that this program can revolutionize work style in Pakistan and empower our youth to change the job oriented psyche of Pakistani youth and give them the ability to see things differently by adopting Entrepreneurial thinking. Governments around the globe are always short on job opportunities against the available number of talented people. Digital skills can help bridge this gap.I strongly believe that this kind of training programs serves the underdeveloped countries more than developed countries because through these training, we can educate a child from remote areas of Punjab with the same skills and knowledge that a kid from central London is getting and Pakistanis should benefit from this opportunity.

 

What are some of the challenge of DSTP?

I think Pakistan is gifted with youth that has a lot of potential in IT. The main challenge is the initialization and expansion of efforts to start training programs at a mass level. DSTP is moving towards that objective. In the first tenure, we planned to provide 20,000 trainings but due to applications, we provided 50% more trainings and trained around 30,000 students. In latest batch, we are providing 250,000 trainings, despite our target being 160,000 trainings. Our trainees are in great demand but a major challenges we think our trainees will face after completing this training is a payment gateway. We are in conversation with different banks to allow our trainees to open basic banking accounts. DSTP is also providing small loans with the help of Akhuwat Foundation and giving low cost internet packages with the help of telecom industry. Also we are working to change the perspective of our trainees and encouraging them to become their own masters. 

The private sector and training institutions help Pakistan fill the vacuum that is created due to unbalanced demand-supply curve in education sector, as the government of Pakistan has limited resources

Time commitment is a major challenge as lot of our trainees are non-captive audience. They have no liability as per the scope and terms of DSTP project. There is limited professional norms among our students. The training provided by DSTP is free of cost and that generally makes students careless towards their responsibilities like quizzes, time commitment etc. We are working on it by continuously tapping out trainees by using email, SMS and phone calls. Digital skills are an extremely important weapon that youngsters in Pakistan can include in their arsenal as they look for earning opportunities in an increasingly competitive space for generating income. Let’s hope the youth take note of this amazing opportunity to make themselves self-sufficient in terms of earning a decent livelihood.

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