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Modern Sri Lankan youth workforce

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By Madura Thivanka

The majority of the youth in Sri Lanka prefers to be employed not only as an earning method but also for their social status and social well-being. Although the youth based in the urban areas have advanced skills, competencies, language and capabilities compared to the youth based in rural areas the gaps can still be identified in the Sri Lankan youth workforce comparatively to the modern developed society. 

Youth unemployment is a global challenge; even in Sri Lanka youth unemployment is visible. As mentioned by the National Human Development Report (2014), youth unemployment in Sri Lanka is at an average of 40%. Further, it has also mentioned that the total youth workforce in Sri Lanka is around 48.4%. The youth in this percentage still do not have stable employment opportunities, irrespective of the fact that we see youth engagement in national economic development. It is a difficult task to ensure the youth getting adequate and equal employment opportunities. As a result, youth unemployment in the formal sector as well as the informal sector, have a large number of youth who are working for a low wage with strict working conditions. The development of this working condition has already created many social issues in Sri Lankan society including poor health, poverty and other social issues.

The modern youth of Sri Lanka are seeking for more challenging opportunities to utilise their ideas, concepts and views in a more practical and economical way. However, a clear transition from school to the professional world is still missing. Only a few government and private sector organizations open their gates annually for qualified individuals. According to the NHDR (2014) among youth 16.6% of young men leave schools seeking job opportunities without having proper vocational skills. Further, the NHDR (2014) mentioned the available opportunities are less in Sri Lanka, where Sri Lanka is at a moderate level compared to other South Asian countries. 

The youth in Sri Lanka migrate from rural to urban areas by seeking many informal and casual job opportunities. This has created many issues, such as deviating from agriculture and many other social issues. The youth in rural areas face too many barriers when it comes to employment opportunities. The NHDR (2014) mentions that language barrier is one of the key reasons behind this.

Foreign employment seekers are surprisingly still increasing among the youth workforce. It was reported by NHDR (2014) 35% of the migrants consist of Sri Lankan youth. One of the identified key reasons behind the migration is social isolation, lack of opportunities in local context and high age option. Youth who seek foreign employment are selected from a range of skilled, unskilled, managerial and clerical jobs. However, this migration of labour has become one of the most important foreign income earners for the national economy. 

Participation of women in the workforce is increasing significantly. The NHDR (2014) mentions that women participation in comparison to male participation, is low. Interestingly, there is high participation in factory based employment opportunities and foreign labour opportunities in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Many of the women in the rural area are now moving to the urban employment opportunities rather than working in traditional and local working opportunities, like being estate workers. 

Self-employment is popular among youth, however the, NHDR (2014) mentions that the self-employment sector among the youth is still limited due to the access to the credit and competencies. Lack of awareness regarding the market opportunities, access to the support services and financial literacy is major in rural areas but these factors are becoming positive in youth based in the urban areas. 

In order to create better youth workforce participation for Sri Lankan economic development, the government and private institutions need to implement a range of strategies – among them, encouraging the SME sector with flexible, low-cost loan schemes, career development opportunities and more job opportunities. More creative awareness regarding the youth potential in the economic development must also be raised to grab more young people into the workforce. 

(The writer is a senior lecturer for an international campus in Sri Lanka and is the Head of the Business Management Division. He schooled in Anuradhapura Central College and his first degree was obtained in 2011 from Staffordshire University UK. In 2015, he has completed his MBA from Cardiff Metropolitan University. In 2014, he started his own business based on the Sri Lankan Travel and Tourism Industry. Moreover, he is currently reading for a doctorate from the University of Wales.)

(UNLOCKED is a space for Sri Lankan youth to express their views and opinions on development with the aim of creating positive change in the world. The views expressed in the blogs are solely those of the authors. UNDP Sri Lanka and Daily FT do not represent or endorse the views expressed in these blogs.

Read more about the UNLOCKED initiative www.lk.undp.org)


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