Over the past few years, Pakistan has seen significant growth in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Recent times have seen an influx of universities and training institutes, offering specialised IT training, and global IT players such as Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP have started to take a deeper look at their operations in Pakistan, as well as how these can be scaled and developed. Concurrently, we have smaller technology start-ups — especially with Apps development — and an increasing number of advertising and media agencies entering the digital arena. Given these developments, it’s safe to say that things are on the move.

Nonetheless, we’re still a far cry from where we, as a nation, could and should be when it comes to the ICT sector. The country’s economy, while showing some improvement, remains under pressure, and unemployment remains rife. In fact, when one looks at our largely young population — according to most estimates, two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30 — then unemployment is perhaps, one of the most pressing issues facing the nation. Informal conversations with most law enforcement officials point towards frustrated youth as a key leader of rising crime statistics. And frankly speaking, this comes as little surprise to most of us living and working in Pakistan. Despite the rise in universities, and the growing number of graduates entering the job market, there are simply not enough jobs available to meet the demands of this rising youth. And it’s not just undergraduates who are suffering, but also qualified engineers, IT specialists and those holding Masters degrees in specialised fields.

While the youth complain that there are not enough jobs out there, organisations complain that there are not enough skilled resources available in the market to help them effectively compete on a global level. On the IT front, we as a nation lack enough specialised IT professionals to compete effectively in the global arena. India has evolved leaps and bounds beyond us in this regard — as have many countries in eastern Europe (which is fast emerging as another bloc for IT outsourcing). So what is the need of the hour? Do we focus on creating jobs? Or do we focus on creating more specialised professionals? I believe the only solution is to do both — build a base of trained IT specialists, and once talent is available in the market, the law of supply and demand of labour will compel companies to invest and create jobs. With 3G and 4G services now available in Pakistan, any skilled Pakistani can now address both the local and global markets with products or services. Let me elaborate.

As I mentioned at the onset, Pakistan’s ICT sector is growing and developing at a rapid pace. Today, most major companies and organisations have shifted — or are shifting — to modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and are outsourcing their IT integrated services and digital solutions. The current market leaders in this regard are SAP and Oracle — globally, SAP is the world leader in enterprise applications in terms of software and software-related services. Based on market capitalisation, SAP is the world’s third-largest independent software manufacturer, serving over 253,500 customers in 188 countries, with 66,500 employees in more than 130 countries. I’d like us to focus on the last part of that sentence: 66,500 employees in more than 130 countries. And these are just people directly employed by SAP; its ecosystem, i.e., its partners, employ millions of people around the world earning an average of $5,000 per month.

Here is where I believe the opportunity lies to create a pool of trained IT specialists coupled with meaningful employment. As I just mentioned, companies such as SAP and Oracle employ hundreds of thousands of professionals globally. And the opportunities in Pakistan are as many and as fruitful. All that is needed is the development of a trained pool of IT professionals. Currently, there is a serious dearth of SAP-trained professionals; as more organisations move towards IT-based ERP systems, there will be a natural need for more trained professionals who can implement and manage these systems. Moreover, this will be relevant not only for the major cities of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, but also for industrial cities like Multan, Peshawar, Faisalabad etc.

So the job opportunities are there — all we need to do now is to create the right pool of people who are able to avail of these opportunities. This is where companies like Excellence Delivered (ExD) are putting their money where their mouth is. ExD is a leading partner of both SAP and Oracle in Pakistan and in the Middle East. On the implementation side, ExD has implemented SAP and Oracle systems in several companies, both locally and abroad. Along with implementation, ExD also works together with SAP to provide state-of-art e-learning. In order to manage the global growth of the organisation, ExD has set up training centres all across Pakistan. While there are many IT training institutes in the country, ExD is probably the only one that guarantees jobs to those qualifying the international SAP certification.

This, folks, is the need of the hour. As I said before, it is not sufficient to produce an army of university graduates or even post-graduates anymore. What we need is to have graduates with employable and marketable skills that are relevant to the IT world today. It is only by creating both, the pool of the right people and a strong foundation of good opportunities that will ensure that we make our mark in the comity of nations.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2014.