A cursory look at the unemployment figures in Balochistan as gleaned from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics may not be an alarming sight at first. The unemployment rate in the province currently hovers around 04 percent, not quite staggering enough to cause panic. However, in real world scenario, this translates into a much murkier state of affairs. According to a report published by Sustainable Development Policy institute, half of the population i.e. 52 percent lives below poverty line. In other words, barring the meagre 48 percent, the rest of the province earns less than 1.25 USD a day. Being the least populated province of the country with 12.34 million people as per the 2017 census, almost 6.17 million of them struggle to keep the wolf from the door.

This is further confounded by the fact that most fresh college or university graduates from the province turn to government jobs as their primary source of employment. Due to burgeoning population, government jobs alone cannot satisfy the steady stream of unskilled job seekers. Each year around 26000 people graduate whereas only 2000 succeed in finding employment. Crippling poverty robs people of a good education which in turn reduces their employability and subsequently, a sizeable number of manpower gets ensnared in a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

It is therefore about time that policy makers in Balochistan, in close coordination with heads of public and private institutes of learning, devised effective measures to salvage the precious human resource of the province through a wider set of solutions aimed at curbing the scourge of rising unemployment. One area of immense potential that promises jobs while stimulating economic growth is entrepreneurship; private enterprises that can grow into full-fledged businesses. Effectively tailored programs specifically designed to instill entrepreneurial skills and self-employment could work wonders and can turn around the current malaise of joblessness in the province.

Moreover, cultivating a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurship is the key to bringing about enduring socioeconomic changes. There are no bounds to human potential and history is a witness that when individual talent when groomed systematically can achieve mind boggling feats. Steve Jobs revolutionized the modern computer from his own personal garage in 1976. Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg ushered in the social media boom through his Facebook program developed in his Harvard University dormitory on February 4, 2004. Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma failed his university entrance test but went on to develop his online shopping giant Alibaba as a multibillion dollar empire.

Public and private institutions of learning can play a pivotal role through incorporating academic programs specially formulated towards teaching of a wide array of effective employment skills that form the lifeline for successful entrepreneurial ventures. Traditional academic programs should be restructured to harvest talent in line with the market demands and business requirements while keeping in view individual aptitudes. It is heartening to notice institutions of higher learning in the province have made great headway towards incorporating entrepreneurship modules in their academic programs. In May 2018, Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering & Management Sciences (BUITEMS) established its National Incubation Center, funded by Ministry of Information Technology & Telecom (MoITT). NIC BUITEMS has ever since been a vibrant center for budding entrepreneurs. Similarly, on May 30, 2019, University of Baluchistan inaugurated its Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) in collaboration with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pakistan.

Although universities in Balochistan are relatively new to entrepreneurial programs, this is, nonetheless, a step in the right direction. They can further formulate long term collaborative plans with other institutions in Pakistan like Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Islamabad in order to nurture graduates who not only create private enterprises but generate job opportunities for others. They need to put in place integrated modules that fuse theoretical insights with practical real world application.

The provincial government can launch similar programs in schools and colleges to cultivate students with practical skill sets instead of mere theoretical degree programs and certificates. In addition, government bodies i.e. Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) need to widen their reach through close liaison with academic institutions and conduct orientation programs from aspiring graduates. Coordinated programs involving public and private institutions of learning, government bodies and budding entrepreneurs can produce results in no time.

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Leena Shah Mir is a freelance analyst from Gwadar, Balochistan.

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