By Eng. Shantha Senarath
The Organisation of Professional Association (OPA) of Sri Lanka is the apex body of professionals presently belonging to, 50 member associations catering to 32 disciplines with a total membership of over 50,000.
The OPA activities are decided by the Management Committee and implemented after obtaining approvals from the Executive Committee, which consists of members from the member associations.
The Management Committee comprises of the Chairmen of Standing Committees namely, Career Guidance and Skills Development; Membership; Finance and Budget; Seminars, Workshops and Programs; National Issues; Restaurant and Bar; Publications; Social Events, Outreach Programs and Young Professionals.
History of the OPA
The prestigious organisation took wing in the year 1972 with some of the top professionals spearheaded by Dr. Nath Amarakone accompanied by Dr. H.W. Jayawardena, Dr. S.A. Cabraal and others who met John Chadwick, the first Director of the Commonwealth Foundation to discuss setting up of a professional grouping to add a new dimension to CHOGM, the political grouping as was decided at a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1965.
On 29 April 1975 the representatives of professionals association met at the ASTW headquarters and adopted the constitution empowering the drafting committee to convene the inaugural meeting of the general forum and to take steps to elect the first office bearers and the first executive committee members of the organisation.
The OPA then decided to request a plot of land from the government for the construction of a Professional Centre and received a grant of a hectare of land in a prime location in Colombo. Plans and other necessary mandatory requirements were put in place for the construction of a three storied building with a total floor area of 18,000 sq. feet and building operations commenced. The financial grant amounting to GBP 45,000 received from the Commonwealth Foundation was of immense help for the construction of this building.
The member associations which did not have permanent offices as well as those which were unable to procure premises of their own in Colombo were given the opportunity to set up their offices in this newly constructed building.
In September 1982, the Professional Centre was declared open by the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka J.R. Jayawardena.
The Career Guidance
The Career Guidance and Skills Development Committee, which is one of the Standing Committees of the OPA, stands out as a leading body that promulgates a number of resourceful programs island wide for the benefit of the masses. The members in the committee, who are professionals from varied disciplines, contribute immensely for the success of these programs.
During the post tsunami period there was a huge dearth in construction workers, therefore the committee organised training programs for youth in tsunami affected areas which provided them with the optimum training in addition to a tool kit, totally free of charge.
The committee has currently implemented many programs for the benefit of the following categories:
a. School leavers who are unemployed
b. O/L and A/L students in schools
c. Career guidance teachers in schools
d. Career guidance trainers in the Dept. of Education
The committee is engaged in conducting career awareness programs for the school leavers island-wide with the intention of directing them to follow vocational training courses in technical colleges to qualify as welders, masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, computer operators, etc. During the extensive surveys and analysis done by the committee they have identified the dire need of expert guidance in order to steer these youngsters in the right direction.
The Committee is conducting this program in collaboration with the Dept. Technical Education and Training (DTET) and the Urban Settlement and Development Authority (USDA). The areas covered so far are Weerawila, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kurunegala, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Monaragala, Ampara, Embilipitiya, Galle, Balapitiya and Beliatta. Over 1,000 male and female school leavers have participated in these programs so far and a great number of them has entered the technical colleges to follow different vocational courses. This has prevented these rural youth turning into become three wheel operators or common criminals or addicts.
The Committee has joined hands with many other organisations such as the Ministry of Education, Prime Minister’s Office, National Human Resource Development Council (NHRDC), Tertiary Vocational Education Commission (TVEC), etc. in Career Guidance and Skills Development Awareness Programs being conducted for O/L and A/L students and career guidance teachers in schools.
Out of 50 member associations in the OPA about 23 Associations conduct Diploma, Post Diploma and Degree Level Programs in different disciplines. The committee is making the students and the career guidance teachers aware of these alternative career paths through the above mentioned programs.
Further, the committee conducts a capacity building training programs regularly for OPA staff, providing opportunities for members and staff to learn in order to enhance the service levels of the OPA to be on par with the changing times and requirements of individuals.
The OPA Career Guidance website www.opasrilanka.org provides a free service to the public in providing all Career Information together with a Career Test for students.
The OPA Job Portal www.jobsearchsl.org provides a free service to all its member associations to publish their HR requirements.
With multi-faceted capabilities within the OPA and its links to the hierarchy of all governing bodies in the island, the OPA is invaluable to the future of Sri Lanka as it provides a platform for development in every sphere, setting the benchmark in empowering the lives of every Sri Lankan.
(The writer is OPA Vice President and Career Guidance and Skills Development Committee Chairman.)