Let’s state the absolute obvious: there is a lot of tech running every kind of business. Big or small, entertainment or lifestyle, no business can grow, expand or reach its customers, if it isn’t run by technology. According to Gartner, a US based research and advisory firm, global IT spending will reach $3.8 trillion in 2018 – that’s approximately the size of the budget of the United States government. Spend on IT and ITeS in Pakistan is a small fraction of that total, yet the IT industry has doubled in the last 4 years and will continue to grow. Ten thousand IT graduates enter the market each year and unlike most other fields, there are fewer barriers to entry – anything from creating apps to writing software or learning online, the playing field is very level. If you have the skills, competency, exposure and understanding, you can find a job.
Campus Connections 2018 is campus drive produced by TheNewSpaces to bridge the gap between the industry and academia. Interactive sessions will be conducted across universities with panelists sharing industry insights and sharing experiences with the audience. Dr. Shahid Mahmud, CEO of Interactive Group summarizes the issue from both sides relatively accurately. He says, “Looking at the curricula within universities and technical institutes, there is an obvious gap between the skill set required in the industry and the skills developed through academia. In order to prepare 10,000 new graduates enter the ever demanding job market, there is a need of a capacity development platform where fresh graduates get to know about the in-demand skills in the industry to catch up with their pace. The capacity building platform should have a broader audience of heterogeneous segments through programs aimed at equipping our youth, freelancers, students, professionals, etc. with knowledge, skills, tools & techniques necessary to seize the opportunities available internationally in online jobs marketplaces.”
The Discussion at Bahria University
Campus Connections visited Bahria University on February 15, 2018 with Shehryar Hydri, Secretary General of P@SHA, Adeel Hashmi, COO of TPL Maps, Khawaja Tanveer Saleem, Head of IT at Engro Corp, and Raza Matin, Marketing and Business Consultant for Pakistan at Google.
The session consisted of pure engagement with the students of Management Sciences and Software Engineering. Most students had questions about hiring practices and their preferences in candidates. Understandably so considering the youth unemployment rate in Pakistan is more than 10% according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
Raza Matin began by laying out some harsh truths to the room. He said, “Out of the nearly one hundred students present here today, 80% won’t find a job in the first year, because companies aren’t looking for people with textbook knowledge and no experience. In fact, the education system as we know it, and the degrees being offered today will eventually be considered worthless in the future.”
The panelists placed emphasis on accumulating as many skills as possible and inculcating an ability to learn new things quickly. They stressed on competence. “Today, competency counts more than anything else. A candidate is judged more favorably if they can demonstrate problem solving capabilities. Degrees are important but there is more that is looked at,” says Tanveer Saleem.
Shehryar Hydri encouraged students to pursue specialized degrees, “There’s still a prevailing sentiment in Pakistan that an MBA is essential for a managerial position. That’s just not true. People pursue a Bachelor’s in a technical degree like engineering and after some experience, do their MBA, rendering their technical degree useless. Management is not as hard as people think.”
The panel also gave their two cents on the education system as a whole. They admitted that it had stagnated in the last few decades and encouraged more workshops and industrial visits as well as projects to be given by the industry so that students weren’t total strangers when they entered a plant or a factory for the first time as employees. Tanveer expressed a need for more engagement with the industry, beyond the typical internships and seminars, “The one area where universities really need to improve is faculty. Most professors simply regurgitate textbook knowledge without giving much practical experience to their students and their interest wanes.” Experience matters. It really does. Adeel addressed just how critical it was for students to self-explore beyond what they were being taught.
The effectiveness of the internet as a tool for learning became a key point of discussion. A few students mentioned that they had found freelance work online writing blogs and editing videos, and writing code, skills they had also acquired online.
Raza explains, “You’re only a pair of arms and legs when you enter the market as graduates. You need to cultivate skills that give you an edge over the other candidates in line. And frankly in today’s world you have no excuse. Anything that you want to learn about any subject is available for free. If you don’t use that to your advantage, the world will leave you behind.” The buzzword and trends also made it into the conversation. The future in Artificial Intelligence and its effects on employment and how it could be inculcated across disciplines, were just some of the questions the students had. As with the previous industrial revolutions, it would leave thousands unemployed in its wake yet will create opportunities that didn’t previously exist.
Raza explained that rudimentary tasks would be commoditized in the future. “Basic functions like collecting data, producing graphs and charts as well as maintaining equilibrium and improving the efficiency of systems will all become automated, but with this will come a need for individuals who can interpret bulk data, identify trends, figure out solutions, and write algorithms. Those who find new ways to attack problems and disrupt the state of things will be in higher demand than ever.”
Where does Pakistan fit into all of this? According to this set of panelists, there was more opportunity within Pakistan. Pakistan’s population specifically that of millenials, infrastructure and adoption of technology services all make a serious dent in pessimism and despair. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and other tech giants are looking to expand their operations beyond the continents of North America and Europe, and they’ve set their sights on Africa and Asia as the next ground for growth.
Raza summarized, “The great thing about Pakistan is that we have more problems than most countries which means we have problems looking for solutions. I know so many people that had migrated from Pakistan to western nations who are now coming back because there is too much opportunity and potential here to waste.”
And of course, entrepreneurship was also discussed. The panelists cautioned that though the rate of success among entrepreneurs was 1 out of 100, this endeavour was the only way to fully exploit the potential they had talked about. It created jobs and propelled the economy forward.
Adding to the sentiment, Adeel added, “Running a business into the ground is easy, keeping it afloat and stable for over 3 years is hard. If you’re thinking of pursuing a startup, don’t. If you see a problem without a solution, come up with one, and turn it into a business.”
Please click here to watch photographs from this session.