The manufacturing industry in any country plays a pivotal role in job creation, revenue generation and export promotion, factors that underpin economic growth and prosperity. Therefore, all the world’s economies pay special emphasis on the sustained competitiveness of their manufacturing sectors. Accordingly, governments are to ensure proper policies and supporting infrastructure are continually in place to sustain manufacturing competitiveness at the international level.

To support a strong manufacturing base, among other factors, trained human resources with suitable analytical skills, properly trained engineers, the latest machinery and linkages of the industry with academia are required. Developed countries live in a dynamic, competitive environment where new technologies are continuously shifting and emerging. They have ample resources and robust systems in place to continuously read the international competitive environment and accordingly tailor their industrial, academic and technological policies. On the other hand, a developing country has a struggling economy, limited resources and usually does not compete in a dynamic technological environment. However, the intelligent use of financial and technological resources and prudent industrial policies can help a developing country in creating a niche at the international level. Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia are premier examples; they have slowly become manufacturing hubs in the region despite being low in literacy and other national development indicators. These countries spent on their education, upgraded their technological base through the transfer of technology and associated skills and facilitated academia-industry linkages, following the pattern of Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The manufacturing industry in Pakistan is mostly labour-intensive, outdated and with a low level of automation, having high defect rates and low-efficiency levels. Further, our manufacturing base had been sustained on trade barriers and protectionism. Accordingly, we are producing products of low value-addition and generally compete on cost, which is again being eroded due to the entrance of countries such as Bangladesh, which are better than us in product quality and labour productivity. As a result, our industry is facing serious problems in increasing or even sustaining its share in the global market, causing unemployment in different major industrial sectors.

To help the manufacturing sector, the Government of Pakistan (GOP), over the last many decades, has established many organisations to help the manufacturing sector increase its quality, productivity and upgrade relevant technology. The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) has the objective to transfer technical expertise and knowledge to local industry through the involvement of international and local experts. SMEDA has been providing technical guidance and consultancy to industrial sectors in the areas of productivity improvement, quality assurance, cost reduction and energy efficiency.

Similarly, TUSDEC was established to upgrade the technology and skills of key and strategic industrial clusters and connect Pakistan to the global value chain. Its primary objective, among others, includes promoting and establishing technology up-gradation and skill development centres by establishing a common facility, design, support and maintenance, testing, certification, incubation, applied research and dissemination centres. Thus, skill development centres have been set up to impart technical skills to youth.

Further, we have technical and vocational training institutes (TEVTIs), under provincial control, which are again responsible for providing trained technical force for our manufacturing industry. For instance, Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), Punjab has designed courses to train youth for the job market. It also plans to set up a skill university, in the near future, in Lahore. Thus, all the aforementioned organisations are trailblazing individual trajectories, without any inter-departmental coordination to provide any focus of efforts, avoid any redundancy of jobs and waste of precious financial and technical resources. They are all running industrial programmes, training centres and foreign training to improve the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector, which despite all these endeavours is failing.

Further, higher academia-engineering universities are visibly absent in the above-mentioned initiatives and efforts of various organisations. These engineering universities have, under HEC programmes, developed highly educated manpower along with well-equipped laboratories and workshops. Thus, instead of allowing organisations such as SMEDA, TUSDEC and TDAP to run their training centres and workshops, academia at university and TEVTIs are engaged to train manpower according to the needs of local industry. This will help to decrease redundancies, improve efficiencies, save resources and result in better alignment of academia and technical training institutes to the needs of local industry. In such a context, the job of the government, both at the federal and provincial level, would be to formulate macro-level policies which eschew protectionism, promote resource leverage, reward technological up-gradation and productivity and facilitate industry-academia linkages.