The Private Sector and Education in Afghanistan
By Sayed Aziz Azimi
When Ti began work in Afghanistan, we needed a complete workforce all along the corporate management chain. To secure this workforce, we had three choices. First, we could hire U.S. employees and send them to work in Afghanistan. This approach, used early on by many U.S. contractors, has the advantage of tapping the known commodity of highly trained American workers. It has the disadvantages of high cost and limited positive impact on the economy and society of Afghanistan. The second possibility would be to bring in guest workers from a third country. This approach typically involves lower hourly wages than U.S. workers, but the costs to house and protect the workforce can be high. In addition, there is still the issue that foreign workers do not contribute as much to the local economy and society as hiring locals, and this approach often breeds resentment. The third possibility was to hire a team of Afghan employees. This has the advantages of low hourly cost, high impact on the local community, lower housing and security costs, and greater loyalty.
However, the positives of hiring an Afghan workforce quickly ran into the reality of skills—there was a critical shortage of educated and trained personnel. Thus, the desire to operate using a local workforce led Ti to establish an extensive training capability, known as the Ti Capacity Building Program.
Before discussing our program, a few statistics on the magnitude of the problem are revealing.
The Interwoven Problems of Unemployment and Under-Education in Afghanistan
The environment in which Ti operates its award-winning Capacity Building Program is quite harsh: the staggering 40 percent unemployment rate continues to be a driving source of problems in Afghanistan. Unemployment represents a $2 billion loss in to Afghanistan’s GDP. With a total potential workforce of 14.5 million (workers aged 16 to 49), 5.8 million are unemployed. The unemployed are constantly available for both good and mischief—the unemployed provide an unlimited recruitment source for criminals and terror groups. The literacy rate—the percentage of the population age 15 and over who can read and write—is 28.1 percent. School life expectancy is only 8 years. Formal education took a severe blow during the Taliban regime. According to USAID, 80 percent of schools were severely damaged or destroyed during that era.
The government of Afghanistan and private donors have begun to reverse the dearth of education in Afghanistan. While schools are primarily funded by the public sector, there is a new trend of private contributions to education. By 2008, there were four private universities operating in Kabul. The impact of international donor funding on Afghan education has been tremendous. Both the availability and quality of education has improved dramatically.
Case Study Example: Ti’s Capacity Building Division in Afghanistan
Ti believes that the corporate sector also must play a crucial role in supplementing Afghanistan’s public-sector education system. In effect, Ti operates a community college and trade school for our employees. We offer in-house training in government contracting, project management, software applications commonly used in business, English language, engineering, and architecture. Ti offers on-the-job training for tradespeople with supervisory electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and other master tradesmen. Ti staff members also participate in government-sponsored training, such as USACE Quality Control, and Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) training. We offer undergraduate and graduate students traineeships, internships, apprenticeships, and mentorships in many divisions of the company.
Ti has invested heavily in the education of the Afghan people who work for us. As a result, Ti enjoys a reliable and secure work force—which has created positive impacts on the local communities in Afghanistan. Our local workforce become wage-earners who support their local and national economies, and who become part of a network of a well-informed populace—the key to increasing security and decreasing attacks on the Afghan government and its local and international partners.
We believe that our Capacity Building Program represents a template for best practices in workforce development for multinational corporations working in Afghanistan. We also believe it has resulted in significant benefits to the local economy and society at large.