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Rapid labour reforms essential to foster growth

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  • World Bank Country Director believes SL needs to radically change its views on employment

Revamping Sri Lanka’s labour market, including access to education, defining informal and formal workplaces, improving finance and changing public-private sector roles, are crucial to Sri Lanka achieving sustainable growth, the World Bank said yesterday.  

World Bank Country Director Dr. Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, during the launch of the World Bank’s Development Update, focused on the need to revolutionise Sri Lanka’s labour by encouraging youth to seek non-traditional approaches to employment.  

“Today, in many middle-income countries, young people focus on jobs that allow them to innovate, that permit risk taking, and many would not even consider being a lifer in a single job.  Rather, they see the opportunity to change jobs as a way to amass experiences that give them a variety of skills and opportunities.  

Many dream not only of working at the established big-name companies but at being self-starters who develop companies that could be bought by the big names in the industry,” she said.

“This buzz is yet to take root in Sri Lanka, despite its middle-income status.  What I hear most from the young here is that they are conditioned by parental ambitions to become doctors or lawyers and then get a job in the public sector. Don’t get me wrong.  We do need doctors and lawyers in the public sector, but how many can be absorbed into the limited spaces that exist in government?  The outcome has been more job seekers than job creators.”

The Country Director proposed there is a need to redefine the perception of a job.  It can no longer be split into a formal job or an informal job; nor can the future youths afford to all aspire for a job that keeps them as a lifer, she said.“We need youths to be at the forefront of creating jobs, some of which we don’t even know will exist in the near future.  We need them to push policymakers, the private sector and the public sector to lift hurdles in their way so they can get on with being tomorrow’s employers and innovators.”

However, she acknowledged such an effort would challenge many other aspects of today’s job world.  If the jobs of tomorrow will be vastly different, does the education system as it is today permit the innovation and skills development needed in the future?  How should the vocational centres be upgraded to skill youths on an on-going basis? It can no longer be a once in a lifetime training, she noted.

“With jobs going into the virtual space, does it make sense to have people sitting in an office or will there be other models of working that will be focused on output and impact than presence in an office? You can’t upend a status quo on jobs and yet end up with the same model on how people work. There is little doubt that the trend to move in and out of jobs – formal to informal and back again - has begun and it can only intensify.  Mobility will be the key word for our future youths, and taking risks will be something that they will be more comfortable with than our generation has ever been.  And they will push the system to adjust accordingly to this new trend.”

The Country Director warned of disappointment as some endeavours fail, but she argued that stakeholders would be able help them back up to continue to create the jobs that people want to work in. 

“So, to all the youths who are thinking of pushing the boundaries and becoming the next entrepreneur, the world is ready for you. You must demand the attention of those who have the means to help you start up. Also, don’t be afraid of failure.  And to those who have the space for the new generation of jobs, don’t wait for the youths to be skilled – reach out and skill them and give them a platform to innovate.  There is little doubt that the benefits will accrue to all quarters.”

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