It has been a while that the National Policy on Human Resources and Employment (NHREP) was launched in July 2012. Has it been sufficiently discussed in the HR circles? Are HR professionals aware of its contents and conduct? Has it been able to create a momentum with regards to consistent policy implementation on HR? These are the questions I would like to raise in seeking answers.
I must admit that it took a while for me also to read it to see its comprehensiveness. Also, it is a fact that I was invited to be part of the policy development team, and I could not contribute owing to my other commitments. The fact is that such a pioneering effort, though late, is indeed commendable.
The NHREP sets out the overarching policy framework to provide full, decent and productive employment to all Sri Lankans. It is the foundation on which human resource capabilities would be strengthened and employment opportunities created to make Sri Lanka to reach its aspirations.
The NHREP has stated its vision as:
“‘Sri Lanka – the Wonder of Asia’ in which all persons of working age become globally competitive and multi-skilled, and enjoy full, decent and productive employment with higher incomes in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”
It clearly shows the alignment to the national priorities and emphasis on the employee aspects.
As the NHREP states, there had been an increase in the labour force in absolute terms over the forgoing decade from 6.8 million in 2000 to 7.6 million in 2010. Total numbers employed had grown from 6.3 million to 7.2 million during the same period. The labour force participation rate, however, declined from 50.3 to 48.6% during this period, with the rate of employment marginally rising from 92.4% of labour force to 95.1%, indicating a drop in the rate of unemployment from 7.6 to 4.9%.
Accordingly, those of the workforce having higher educational achievements are overrepresented among the unemployed, suggesting that there is a shortfall in demand for educated workers. Further, low rates of labour force participation and high level of unemployment among women as well as the gender disparity in wages, shows that women are at a distinct disadvantage in the labour market.
"I see the launch of NHREP as a significant start in strengthening people development in Sri Lanka. Yet, a long journey lies ahead in fulfilling its expectations, with clarity, consensus and commitment"
As the policy report states, Sri Lanka is moving from a factor-driven economy towards an efficiency-driven economy leading on to an innovation-driven economy. The human resource plans will explore possibilities to leap frog towards an innovation driven stage. The performance of human resources related factors is critical and related to global competitiveness. These factors will be examined constantly and measures taken for appropriate adjustments so that the economy will move smoothly towards this innovation driven growth stage.
Key aims of NHREP
The main objectives of the NHREP have been identified as follows:
1.To promote the attainment of full, productive and freely chosen employment for all women and men in Sri Lanka
2.To develop a highly competent, globally competitive, multi-skilled and productive workforce
3.To improve incomes and the quality of life of the working population across different sectors and regions
4.To provide the fullest possible opportunity to each worker without discrimination, to qualify for and to use his/her skills and endowments in a job for which he/she is best suited so that worker motivation and productivity are maximized
5.To safeguard the basic rights and interests of workers in line with national labour laws and key international labour standards
The above seems to be timely and relevant with challenges of implementation. They are also comprehensive in nature and collaborative in application. As the report further illustrates, a national human resources and employment policy is needed to guide the use of the country’s labour-force effectively for the overall development of the country. In achieving rapid development as aspired, Sri Lanka needs to prevent the skills of the work force from becoming a constraint on development.
The policy report contains key policy components pertaining to several key areas. human resources planning, development and productivity, school education, higher education , vocational skills and employability, career guidance and counselling, enhancing employability of the youth, science, technology and innovation skills, sectoral policies, informal employment, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), employment opportunities for vulnerable groups, disabled persons and those in underdeveloped regions, foreign employment, public service employment, mainstreaming gender, labour market information and employment services, social dialogue institutions and labour relations, wages and social protection.
Sectoral policies include sectors such as agricultural, manufacturing, tourism, ICT and BPO, health services and ports and shipping. It also speaks of environment friendly (green) jobs, infrastructure investments, performing arts, music and creative industries as well as other emerging spheres.
HR planning, development and productivity
In perusing through the policy document, I found the section on HR planning, development and productivity particularly interesting from an HR professional’s point of view. As the report states, the importance of planning and development of human resources in a country’s development process cannot be overemphasised. Effective human resource planning implies that sufficient human resources, with the right mixture of talent, are available in appropriate locations, performing their jobs according to their skills and aspiration.
At present Sri Lanka lacks comprehensive information in regard to human resource requirements. It is on the basis of reasonably accurate projections about how many skilled workers of different categories the country requires to meet current and emerging needs that arrangements could be made to supply the high quality human resource requirements. All relevant authorities in the public sector could undertake studies of human resource requirements in all key categories during the NHREP period. It goes without saying that systems have to be devised to do the same for the private sector as well.
The NHREP report further states that the demographic profile of the population and the labour force and their expected changes over time are taken into account in human resource planning and development. Particular emphasis is placed on required policy responses to changing proportions of the young and the old in the population, the extent of women’s labour force participation, and overseas migration for work. While action is planned to address skills inadequacies caused by overseas migration of skilled workers, policies will be designed to continuously improve labour productivity at both macro and sectoral levels.
Low labour productivity is often highlighted as a major factor behind high cost of production and low profits. This hampers local private investment as well as foreign direct investment and thereby restricts employment opportunities. Low productivity leads to loss of market competitiveness and slow industrial progress.
A set of productivity standards needs to be developed and established at enterprise level, ensuring that employees also would gain from productivity growth. Labour productivity indexing and standardisation in respect of different industries and economic sectors are to be developed. Medium and long-term labour productivity targets will have to be declared at macro, sector and subsector levels based on corresponding projections.
The fact that the skill requirements in the labour market are constantly rising as a result of globalisation and technological change is noted. Talents of young people, and the need to provide opportunities for them to develop those talents, are recognised. More effective and more competent workers will help enterprises to remain competitive in global and regional markets.
The report summarises the following are some key issues/problems affecting human resource planning and development:
nMismatch between the education and training provided to people and resultant expectations of the youth, on the one hand, and the skills and knowledge demanded in the current and emerging world of work on the other.
- Inadequate mechanisms to address skills development and employment issues pertaining to the large numbers dropping out annually from the formal education system.
- Absence of mechanisms to encourage labour productivity and also a productivity-oriented working culture.
- High wage and other costs of labour, particularly in respect of higher and more skilled positions, having a direct impact on employers’ decision to hire and to re-train staff. Re-training becomes particularly costly in the context of high turnover of skilled labour.
- Lack of a business-friendly environment (e.g., legal, infrastructure, etc.) to facilitate investments in new enterprises.
There is no doubt that the above issued should be addressed in a collaborative manner and coordination between key public sector organisations as well as key private enterprises should be vital in such an endeavour. Whether we are aware of such a need and whether we are willing to commit to fulfil such a need is the question.
“The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not,” said Niccolo Machiavelli. Whilst the contents of the NHREP are current and comprehensive, the commitment required to implement those can be seen as a key challenge.
A starting point could be a discussion among the HR professionals about the information contained in it and implications of their implementation. Professional bodies such as Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) and the Association of HR Professionals (AHRP) can play a pivotal role here.
In summing up, I see the launch of NHREP as a significant start in strengthening people development in Sri Lanka. Yet, a long journey lies ahead in fulfilling its expectations, with clarity, consensus and commitment.
(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on email@example.com or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)