This week the Government obtained $ 100 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as part of its skills development program, which aims to bridge the gap between people and the jobs they aspire to do but in a world where rapid technology is changing the very nature of work, the process will have to be joined with policy to adapt to emerging challenges.
It has long been known that a lack of skilled labour is hurting the Sri Lankan economy, with the country’s private sector considering this a key constraint to business growth. Even though Sri Lanka’s overall unemployment rate is a low 4%, one out of five Sri Lankans aged 15-24 years is out of work. There are of course additional reasons for this than a skills gap. One point being that Sri Lanka’s youth spend longer in university than their global counterparts and often enter the workforce later but this in itself is an issue that needs to be addressed.
So is the issue that only 35.9% of women are included in the labour force despite outperforming male counterparts academically at every level. Equipping youth, especially young women, with employable skills is crucial to decrease youth unemployment and prepare the workforce for a high value-adding economy.
The ADB has pointed out its program’s first phase (2014-2016) has been performing well, with the employment rate of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) graduates rising from 50% in 2012 to 57% in 2015, exceeding the 55% target. The additional financing will expand successful program activities and accelerate the pace of reform initiatives.
But the challenging skills landscape must also be kept in mind. Automation and globalisation are reshaping the world economy. Within the next four years, more than five million jobs are expected to be lost to robots. Obviously the level of automation will have different levels of rapidity in different countries but there is little doubt that it is coming and the workers who are least able to adapt will be the first to find themselves sidelined. The Government’s plans to liberalise the economy will also speed up this process.
Employers are revamping their recruitment strategies. With the rise of the gig economy, portfolio career and hybrid jobs, what businesses want is workers who combine acumen with creativity, collaboration with good communication skills; people who can innovate and solve complex problems. Yet nearly 60% of businesses around the world say they are unable to find candidates who possess those skills. Sri Lanka is no exception to this rule.
Emerging markets are turning into fertile grounds of innovation in education. Frugally and creatively, partnerships between the public and private sectors are drawing up new curriculums that match young people with the real needs of businesses.
Here are three examples of creating learning initiatives that are making a difference. This means programs themselves must adapt to teach new skills or better yet equip youngsters so that they can re-skill themselves. Given Sri Lanka’s aging population and its relatively late arrival to tying up with global value chains, skills development will need much more focus and support at the policy level for years to come.