Marginalised youth can have tremendous impact on national GDP through vocational training

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 01:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Marginalised men and women in the workplace and society possess tremendous potential to further Sri Lankan society and the country’s economy. Training them in specific skills not only provides them with access out of poverty, but contributes to the growth of the national GDP. The recent PRET OPTIONS Achievements and Lessons Learned Conference organised in Colombo by World University Services of Canada (WUSC) demonstrated this fact. The workshop was the culmination of 24 years of WUSC involvement in Sri Lanka. The event shared lessons learned, good practices, and achievements of WUSC and partner efforts, in support of employment skills training for marginalised men and women across the country. Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development Dullas Alahapperuma was the Chief Guest. Other distinguished guests included High Commissioner of Canada Shelley Whiting and WUSC Executive Director Chris Eaton. WUSC Country Director Richard Bonokoski delivered the welcome address. Since 1989, WUSC has helped marginalised or disadvantaged youth and women acquire skills and gain employment in areas such as carpentry, masonry, mechanics and electronics.  These skills form the backbone of any country’s development as they are skills that are always in demand. Through such initiatives, recipients of training are able to support themselves and their families, thereby ending the cycle of poverty in which they were previously trapped. Bonokoski remarked: “We’ve found that connecting families with employers and with employment sites, such as hotels, factories, and shops can help alleviate family concerns about safety and security of young women.” Non-traditional skills for women Life skills such as money management, nutrition, health, small business development, and gender equality awareness are also taught. In fact, WUSC helps women find higher income jobs that increase their visibility and it promotes social acceptance of women in non-traditional jobs. In the current reconstruction and long-term development phase, there are unique challenges for organizations like WUSC that are working in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, WUSC has built a record of success through years of practical efforts on the ground. One highlight of the conference was a performance by the theatre group, ‘Mathra’, exemplifying the work WUSC and its partners have done for disadvantaged young women and men in Sri Lanka. The drama, entitled ‘Deluge’, was about two young women, one Sinhalese, the other Tamil, and their quest for a brighter future through training and employment. In his keynote speech, the Chief Guest, Minister Alahapperuma said: “For Sri Lanka to become a middle income country, the training and education of the ‘youth’ must play a significant part.” The Minister indicated: “There is an inverse relationship between poverty and skills formation. When skills are formed, poverty reduces.” He outlined how this expansion of skills development has led to a 41% reduction in poverty. However, he noted that there are still many challenges ahead, for example, the social stigma associated with certain trades. Due to a caste system that still affects the outlook of many Sri Lankans; some trades are socially limited to certain people and communities. The Minster highlighted the fact that the efforts of WUSC, along with his Ministry and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC), have been instrumental in bringing quality vocational training to people who need them, especially in the rural areas. The Minister ended his speech by repeating the famous quote by Canadian hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, stating that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Opportunities must be seized. Enhancing relevance through private sector involvement The Venerable Dr. Devalegama Dhammasena Thero, the Executive Director of the Kawantissa Vocational Institute, reviewed the PRET OPTIONS project aims, objectives, and achievements, noting that the Institute’s partnership with WUSC, initiated in 1992, resulted in improved opportunity for hundreds of marginalised young women and men and in the 24 years since its inception, PRET has provided training for approximately 30,000 Sri Lankan youth. In addition, PRET has enhanced the capacity of 47 training institutions to be better able to deliver quality vocational training and helped in the establishment of women’s groups that identify and address specific gender issues. Some of the lessons learnt that were shared at the conference  were that labour market information is key to identifying appropriate areas for skilled trades training and that private sector involvement enhances the relevance of training. It was also noted that greater collaboration between stakeholders (government, NGOs, community organisations, private sector) improves delivery of training and increases employment potential. Findings also demonstrated that a holistic approach that includes life skills and entrepreneurship skills with vocational training, results in higher employment rates. WUSC has always maintained strict impartiality in the country’s active conflict (now ended) and delivers quality programming to people from all ethnic groups regardless of ethnicity or where they live. It promotes transparency in both operations and reporting while ensuring that funds are used solely for development activities. Currently, there are 11 districts in the north, south and east, delivering vocational training for marginalised youth and women (These are located in Badulla, Monaragala, Hambantota, Matara, Batticaloa, Ampara, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Anuradhapura). Conference attendees included officials from Norway, Canada, and Australia as well as representatives from government and private sectors. Six workshops were organised to highlight the results of WUSC operations in Sri Lanka.