On 28 February, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared 2023 as the Year of the Youth in Pakistan in a televised message on PTV, announcing that it would be marked by various events. The year 2023 also marks the completion of 10 years of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, a flagship initiative taken by ex-Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif in 2013. Since coming to power, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government has revived this programme. Led by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), these initiatives are already benefiting millions of youth in the country.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Youth Affairs and Chief Coordinator of the Prime Minister’s Youth Skill Development Programme Shaza Fatima Khawaja, who herself was the youngest parliamentarian in Pakistan’s history at the time of her induction as a member of the National Assembly, is now overseeing these initiatives under the able leadership of Prime Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government is devising a national youth employment policy, which will bridge the gap between industries and academia. Under the policy, the government will aim to provide two million jobs to the youth every year. SAPM Shaza Fatima Khawaja has stated that 100,000 youth will be provided with training in different fields with a special focus on IT.
Prime Minister’s Youth Programme is an umbrella for several projects which include Prime Minister’s Youth Business and Agriculture Loan Scheme, Prime Minister’s Skills Development Programme, Talent Hunt Youth Loan Scheme, Green Youth Movement, Digital Youth Development Centres, and National Innovation Award. In addition, Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme, whose success in the past has been well-documented, has also been revived.
The purpose of all these projects and initiatives is to empower youth and enable them to fully realise their potential. A detailed overview of these projects is given below.
Prime Minister’s Youth Business and Agriculture Loan Scheme
Revived in December 2022, this scheme promotes entrepreneurship among youth by providing business loans on simple terms, with reduced markup through 15 commercial, Islamic, and small and medium enterprises (SME) banks. All Pakistani residents, aged between 21 and 45 years with entrepreneurial potential are eligible to apply for the loan. For IT or e-commerce-related businesses, the lower age limit is 18 years.
Loans provided under this scheme are segregated into three tiers. In the first tier, collateral-free loans of up to Rs0.5 million can be secured with a zero per cent markup. In the second tier, loans from over Rs0.5 million up to Rs1.5 million can be secured with a 5 per cent markup on a personal guarantee. In the third tier, any amount above Rs1.5 million up to Rs7.5 million can be secured on a 7 per cent markup with collateral as per the lending bank’s credit policy.
Prime Minister’s Skills Development Programme
The programme aims to develop the expertise of Pakistani youth in demand-driven and employable skills along with formal education. It focuses on providing high-end and high-tech skills, introducing reforms in the skills development sector, promoting inclusivity by focusing on reducing gender disparity, including marginalised youth and youth workers in the informal sector, and emphasises building competence of the trainees through practical training.
Under this project, a state-of-the-art national job portal with smart categorisation based on area, trade, expertise, gender etc. which is also connected with 100 plus Career Counselling and Job Placement Centers (CC&JPCs) across the country for in-person career counselling, will be developed.
The 14 areas of interventions proposed under the Skills for All strategy aim to catalyse the transformation of the entire Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system in the country. These include the development and standardisation of 200 TVET qualifications, accreditation of 2000 TVET institutes all across Pakistan, international accreditation of 50 TVET institutes and joint international degree programmes, establishment of 100 smart tech labs across Pakistan for distance learning technical and vocational skills, 10 country-of-destination-specific facilitation centres across Pakistan, 70 new labs/workshops in madrassas for skill development, apprenticeship training of 25,000 youth in various industries, recognition of prior learning of youth to certify their informally acquired skills, establishment of national accreditation council in Islamabad, training of 2,500 TVET teachers according to international TVET practices, among others.
Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme
First launched in 2013, the laptop scheme demonstrated its success with the youth using them to find educational and career opportunities.
This year, a batch of 100,000 laptops will be distributed among high-achieving students. There will be a 50 per cent share for women while transgender persons will also be accommodated. The quota of Balochistan in the scheme has also been doubled.
Talent Hunt Youth Sports League
Talent Hunt Youth Sports League aims to engage the youth of Pakistan in healthy physical activities through sports. It was initiated in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission (HEC). One of the long-term objectives of the project is to develop a pool of talented young players to produce professional players to compete and represent Pakistan on the national and international front.
The programme includes 12 games: badminton, boxing, cricket, football, handball, hockey, judo, squash, table tennis, and volleyball for men and women whereas weightlifting and wrestling are for men only. All Pakistani including nationals from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB) aged between 15-25 years on January 30, 2023, are eligible to participate in the sports league.
Local trials of some games were completed in 2022, while registration for trials of other games was opened in January and the process of selection will be completed within 2023. Trials will be conducted in 25 different locations across the country including the federal capital, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan, AJK, and GB.
Selected candidates will get opportunities such as coaching and development facilities under the patronage of the Pakistan Sports Board and the award of scholarships for pursuing higher education. Selected players will be attached to sports academies to continuously develop their skills, competency, and physical fitness required for professional players.
Green youth movement
This initiative is focused on sensitising and organising youth for the promotion of environmental conservation and eco-friendly behaviour among the masses. It will mentor and promote young eco-inventors at the national, regional, and international levels and establish model green campuses –living labs for the promotion of best practices in renewable energy, waste management, water conservation, air quality maintenance, forestation/plantation, and eco-tourism. Initially, youth will be engaged in plantation drives twice a year, quarterly cleaning drives, water and energy conservation drives, and anti-littering campaigns at holiday destinations, in addition to creating awareness about conducting green sports and green elections with a minimal carbon footprint.
Youth Development Centres
The Youth Development Centres will act as one-stop shops for university students for necessary information, counselling, and resources through a single window system. They will be focused on career counselling and job placement, life skills development, national and international scholarships, national volunteer service and youth cards, capacity building, apprenticeships and internships, and fostering entrepreneurship culture through business incubation centres.
National Innovation Award
The objective of the National Innovation Award is to improve Pakistan’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index and foster an entrepreneurial culture among the youth. It is an opportunity for Pakistani youth to propose innovative ideas, and get funding and technical support from industry experts along with a six-months incubation facility to transfer their ideas into flourishing businesses.
Last year, 13,000 applications were received in October and November for this award from aspiring youth aged 15 to 30 years from across Pakistan. The applications were open to all kinds of innovative ideas including but not limited to information technology, sustainable energy, food security, water management, etc. Over 250 innovators were selected and received extensive training through regional 5-day boot camps on idea pitching by five partner universities. In this process, 50 ideas will be finalised for the award in the first phase. Each startup idea will be competing for funding of up to Rs2 million.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government is devising a national youth employment policy, which will bridge the gap between industries and academia. Under the policy, the government will aim to provide two million jobs to the youth every year.