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Why Sri Lanka needs a national vision and strategy for labour

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Recently, at a FT-Colombo University forum it was noted that Sri Lanka very badly needs a national vision for labour, backed by funding, realistic targets, an implementation strategy and all the government agencies working together and also far greater private sector participation to address the education and skills gaps in the country. This is certainly a must-have, given that all countries at all levels of development are finding that adequate education and skills can improve the employability of workers, the productivity of enterprises and the inclusiveness of economic growth. This realisation has led to increased interest in the formulation of skills development policies to drive the change necessary to meet most of the development challenges. Many of these policies, increasingly broad in scope and outreach, are underpinned by efforts to bring the world of education and training and the world of work closer together.



Why a national skills policy is important?

Skills development is attracting heightened interest in many countries. The challenges that are driving the interest are economic and social. Many policymakers are aware that if their countries are to gain or maintain their status as high-income countries, they must produce the higher value-added, higher quality goods and services that can yield higher wages and profits. To do this they need a skilled workforce and an education and training system that adequately prepares young people to enter the labour market. This argument runs alongside current rethinking that economic development must not only look for rapid economic development, but also inclusive growth. The policy that grows out of this is the increased interest in skills development as an important means of addressing economic, social and developmental concerns. It focuses not only on young people who have completed their formal schooling, but also on adult workers, school drop-outs, workers in the informal economy and disadvantage groups.

The skills challenges that are especially among low and middle-income countries are:

Skills mismatch. Skills obtained through training and those required by the job often do not match, resulting in skills shortages in some areas and, simultaneously, a surplus of workers with skills that are not in demand, contributing to unemployment.

Limited involvement of all partners. Many countries lack the active participation of employers’ and workers’ organisations that is essential to ensure the provision of relevant and appropriate training.

Poor quality and relevance of training. Weak quality assurance, too few or poorly trainers, poor working conditions for trainers, and outdated qualifications, curricula, training materials and methods all inhibit the quality of training. Limited labour market information and inability to translate such information into improved training undermines relevance.

Limited access to training opportunities. The outreach of formal training is often very limited, especially where distances are great and political unrest prevails, the informal economy looms large, and literacy and educational levels are low-all factors that leave a large number of people with few or no employable skills. Women and disadvantaged groups often face additional barriers in accessing training.

Weak coordination in the system. A large number of actors and providers (ministries, agencies, central and regional governments, NGOs, employers and workers) are involved in skills development. Their efforts often overlap and are not well coordinated, especially in developing countries. Weakness in linking skills supply and demand also limits positive impact on employment and productivity.


What can be achieved by developing a national strategy?

The arguments for formulating a national skills development policy, as opposed to merely improving “programs” of skills development, can be summarised as follows:

nTo brings coherence to the system. A national policy presents a common vision of the skills

 system that a country is aiming to build.

nTo facilitate coordinated and planned actions and reforms. The policy disseminates a set of

required changes to be pursued in order to achieve the vision of the skills system in a coordinated manner. A national policy is conducive to a more holistic response to human resources planning that draws together the various government agencies and providers of education and training.

nTo facilitate policy coordination and coherence. A national policy helps to clarify how

skills development efforts are an integral part of employment and other broader developmental objectives. It also helps to avoid contradiction or duplication of other related policies.

nTo clarify institutional arrangements. Development of a national system often requires new

 institutional arrangements that provide clear leadership and responsibility for key elements of the system.

nTo anchor existing good practice. A national policy facilitates continuous commitment to and promotion of good practice.

nTo pledge political and collective will and commitment. A national policy enables reforms to be achieved with clear statements of responsibility shared among government, the social partners and other partners.


Way forward

Going forward we need to make available quality education for majority of all Sri Lankans as a foundation for future training.

The key areas would be;

A) We need a national vision like education for all to get the best out of our talent pool, an essential foundation for future training and productive employment.

B) Building solid bridges between the world of work and training providers in order to match skills provision to the needs of enterprises. This is often done best at the sectoral level where the direct participation of employers and workers together with the Government and training providers can ensure the relevance of training.

C) Continuous workplace training and lifelong learning enabling workers and enterprises to adjust to an increasingly rapid pace of change.

 D) Anticipating and building competencies for future needs. Sustained dialogue between employers and trainers, coordination across government institutions, labour market information, employment services and performance reviews would be a must to realise this goal.

E) Ensuring broad access to training opportunities, for women and men, and particularly for those groups facing greater difficulties, in particular youth, lower skilled workers, workers with disabilities and also rural communities.

(The writer is a HR thought leader.)

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