Saturday, 15 November 2014 00:00
A RECENT World Bank report says annually around 140,000 students complete general education in Sri Lanka without acquiring job-related skills and this is the third biggest reason why companies find it difficult to expand. While the Government has borrowed over $ 300 million to increase training, lack of skills remains a major impediment to growth.
A comprehensive approach is required to integrate young women and men in the labour market, including relevant and quality skills training, labour market information, career guidance and employment services, recognition of prior learning, incorporating entrepreneurship with training and effective skills forecasting. Improved basic education and core work skills are particularly important to enable youth to engage in lifelong learning as well as transition to the labour market.
Employability entails much more than the ability to get that first job. It is having the capacity to network and market oneself, navigate through a career and remain employable throughout life. It requires the ability to ask questions, acquire new skills, identify and evaluate options, understand rights at work including the right to a safe and healthy work environment, adapt successfully to changing situations and the courage to innovate.
Sri Lanka’s highly-volatile and underfunded primary and secondary education does not equip children with such a variety of skills. Most students spend a decade-and-a-half being spoon-fed to pass exams. Many of them are also likely to fall through the cracks of Government-led programs that pitch in after conventional education systems have stunted youth and this remains a major concern.
For job-seekers, the simple answer is that employers are seeking recruits that are job ready, not just those with the technical skills. Employees will be able to respond quickly, reducing the time taken for a product to be conceptualised, manufactured, distributed and sold. Workers will be able to learn more quickly and perform more effectively, allowing for more innovative workplaces where employees can offer novel ideas. Enhanced flexibility means that businesses will be able to adjust quickly to technological change and organisational restructuring.
Yet, the irony is that at the same time as the world struggles with youth unemployment, paradoxically, it is experiencing a skills shortage. Therefore, not only is skills development needed, new jobs need to be created too. In Sri Lanka research has shown that since the end of the war private sector job growth as only been about 1%. This creates a situation where youth are often buttonholed into jobs they are dissatisfied with as companies try to make do with less staff tied to more work.
On the flipside, stagnant job growth in the private sector pushes youth towards the public sector. Sri Lanka’s existing public cadre of 1.3 million is ridiculously oversized with paralysing politicisation, bureaucracy and red tape that have not just stifled employee growth but the function of the nation as a whole. These candidates are usually viewed as needing fewer skills, but in fact actually need to be at the forefront for a competent public service.
Currently youth unemployment in Sri Lanka is at 17.4%, more than three times the national average. It is unlikely skills development will have a lasting impact unless deeper structural changes take place in Sri Lanka’s job market.