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Gearing up for the future


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Over the next decade, Sri Lanka’s growth trajectory will undoubtedly see technologisation across the economy in varying degrees. Sri Lanka’s workforce will not be immune to the vast technological shifts underway globally, even if the speed and intensity of their permeation into Sri Lanka’s unique socio-economic context occurs differently than other countries. 

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), in a recent report earlier this year titled ‘Future of Work in Sri Lanka’, explores the challenges the Sri Lankan economy will face as it attempts to adapt technology to an aging population. The report recommends that policymakers adapt to a range of strategies to gainfully shape the world of work in the country. Policy portfolios have been articulated across four domains. 

First, education and skilling will need to provide lifelong learning opportunities and build capacities for availing opportunities in new sectors and launching entrepreneurial ventures. Secondly, technology and innovation can be used to shape technological trajectories that develop applications to serve those that are at risk of being left behind, and accelerate employment generation in new sectors. Thirdly, enhanced labour protection will provide new frameworks to better protect workers, as the number of contracted, self-employed workers increase and employment relationships transform through platformisation of work. Finally, strategies for redistribution can ensure technology gains are distributed more widely into society, through Government policies and stronger universal safety nets, and new forms of employee compensations in firms. The portfolios listed below represent an indicative list for future research and exploration, recognising that each will pose their unique set of challenges and trade-offs. 

The Government and other stakeholders would have to promote digital skilling programs and strengthen foundational skills. In the future of a digital economy, there lies a critical window of opportunity for Sri Lankan youth entering the workforce over the next decade. Digital skilling interventions will need to go beyond technical skills to enable adaptiveness among workers, but skilling cannot act as a substitute for education.

Focus is also needed on skilling for jobs in Data Science and Cyber Security. In order to stay competitive in the global economy, professional and technical graduates will be expected to adapt with the development of more advanced IT jobs. Implement a Data Governance plan. Collection, storage, sharing and ownership of data needs to be effectively governed to facilitate digital infrastructure. In Sri Lanka, stakeholders have identified substantial gaps in digital consumer and data protection regulations.There are currently no laws that govern data in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka needs to develop contemporary data privacy and sharing laws that enable the digital economy, while keeping with global trends and best practices. Technological developments are likely to lead to new business models, e.g. non-standard forms of work, which will require labour protection and a revision of working conditions. 

In addition, digital technologies can potentially offer workers a virtual space for information sharing, grievance redressal, and new ways of collective bargaining, thus allowing the platform economy to provide opportunities in formalising the unorganised and informal sector in Sri Lanka.Perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be adapting and scaling up new welfare services, especially retirement plans, which can move fluidly within these lines of work but provide substantial safety nets. With unconventional and impermanent work, the new norm is that it will be countries that adapt the fastest that will be able to grow.  


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