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Employing the unemployed


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As elections loom closer, unemployed graduates who demand public employment are an easy way to attract votes but while many would not agree with the demand of unions it is worth attempting to understand why an estimated 40,000 graduates cannot find work. 

Many graduates are obsessed with getting employment from the Government, partly because of the security it provides and because in rural areas private companies providing lucrative jobs are few and far between. 

However, increasing public employment is simply not a solution.  Sri Lanka’s State and State-Owned Enterprise workers, excluding the military, grew a whopping 30% to 1.1 million from 2006 to 2016, according to a survey by the Census and Statistics Department. The survey, which includes the Central Government, Provincial Government, statutory bodies and State enterprises, showed that not only is the public sector inflated, but it often made recruitments to areas of little use to the people.  It also means that the burden on the taxpayer to fund these jobs is exponential.   

However, many employers say today’s university graduates don’t quite measure up. In survey after survey, they rate young applicants as deficient in such key workplace skills as written and oral communication, critical thinking and analytical reasoning. As the job market gradually improves, businesses say they aren’t finding enough savvy graduates who can start contributing from day one on the job.

Is the problem that employers have unrealistic expectations or that universities and students are failing to develop critical skills?  A little of both, most workplace experts say.

The Ivory Tower image is real in much of academia, and schools are going to have to pay more attention to careers and what employers want. Employers say students may have textbook knowledge but don’t have the ability to take that knowledge to think critically, innovate, solve complex problems and work well in a team. They want students to come to the workplace with skills that people used to develop on the job.

While universities can certainly focus more on the so-called soft skills employers seek, the job is still the best teacher for critical thinking and interpersonal skills.

The pathway from student to entry-level professional worker is both long and hard for many new college graduates. Students must start the process earlier and colleges must improve the services they offer students in career readiness and practical job search skills. 

Finally, the data highlights a clear need for third-party innovators to assist both colleges and students in making the pathway to the first job more successful. By helping to make connections between career-ready students and the employers who want to hire them, third-party resources can play a key role in the hiring economy. 

This could be a conduit that provides internships at the Advanced Level and university for students to understand what kind of job they are best suited for or interested in before they complete their education and find they have picked the wrong career. 

Sri Lanka is facing the dual challenge of having its top professionals migrate but have unemployed graduates because they are unemployable.  Resolving this policy contradiction would also be the key to sustainable growth for Sri Lanka.


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