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Major multi-stakeholder $ 12 m initiative to make youth employable


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By Shannon Jayawardena

To enhance the employability and skills of youth, a multi-stakeholder major four-year initiative with $ 12 million funding kicked off yesterday.

Spearheaded by the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) and the Government, the initiative involves a coalition of partners from the private sector, non-profit organisations, think tanks and academic institutions. 

Titled ‘YouLead’, it will link youth to productive careers by creating a more market-oriented, skilled and flexible workforce in the country. The focus is to tackle youth unemployment by skills development, enhancing the prospects of employability. 

It was revealed that over 70% of the population from the ages of 15-29 were unemployed while 85% were rural residents. Statistics further show that five million young women are yet unemployed while only 9% were employees in the tourism sector and Parliament. Hence while unemployment amongst youth is a crucial problem, the gender-based cultural patterns of Sri Lanka play a key role in the issue. Youth between the ages of 16 and 35 will be targeted and the regional focus is on the provinces with the highest youth unemployment – the Sabaragamuwa, Central, Southern and Northern provinces. Given the substantial number of unemployed women and their 35% workforce participation rate, ‘YouLead’ will encourage more women to enter the workforce and take up in-demand careers.

‘YouLead’ will engage the private sector and the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training on skills, knowledge and capacity building activities that aim to increase youth employability and sustainable self-employment.

Chief Guest at the launch, Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Chandima Weerakkody, said: “Unemployment is certainly an issue but on the other hand, finding employment for the employees is also a problem.”

“Many employers report difficulties in finding suitably skilled workers, thus it is imperative that all curricula and skills development programs undertake to do so with continuous consultation and feedback from the industries and sectors that provide employment.”

‘YouLead’ is administered by the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) and implemented by International Executive Service Corps (IESC), an organisation which has worked with hundreds of private sector enterprises in Sri Lanka since 1965. It will partner the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce, Arizona State University, Global Communities, Skills for Life and Verite Research.

“The potential and human talent in this country is amazing and we are truly captured by the vision of the young people,” said US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Atul Keshap, adding that “the future of Sri Lanka depends on its youth gaining skills and knowledge that will power prosperity.”

IESC Vice President and in-Country Project Director Charles Conconi said: “At the YouLead project we take a subtonic approach with these issues. We work with students to help develop their skills better, with teachers and career counsellors to develop their capacity, with training institutions themselves and entrepreneurs. We believe that’s the only way to create a truly sustainable, professional and productive workforce for Sri Lanka’s future.” 

It is also very important to cast aside any forms of racial or gender-based discrimination and treat all youth of equal capabilities the same. Given the substantial number of unemployed women and their 35% workforce participation rate, the campaign will encourage more women to enter the workforce and take up in-demand careers.

Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Rajendra Theagarajah emphasised the fact that “you should take leadership and customise it into a talent-based opportunity.”

USAID Mission Director Dr. Andrew Sisson, American Chamber of Commerce President Kumudu Gunasekera, business leaders, youth leaders and role models attended the launch.

 


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