The Employers' Federation of Ceylon

Tuesday, 02 October 2018 00:00
Strategically located in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a ‘gateway’ to South Asian markets with a population of approximately 1.9 billion people. With a workforce of around 8.2 million, our nation is blessed with a high literacy rate of 97%. The computer literacy rate is around 29%. 
Today’s demographic realities will require the country to consider new strategy to harness the resources of youth, ensure higher participation of women in the workforce (currently only 36% participation has been recorded) and focus on utilizing the competencies of an ageing population. The country’s requirements of human resources especially in relation to supplying skilled labour for traditional sectors such as agriculture - including plantations as well as growth sectors such as IT, logistics, hospitality and manufacturing, cannot be undermined.With effects of globalization, policy makers as well as employers were compelled to grapple with finding skilled workers to meet their requirements. Our ability to evolve to the needs of the ever-changing markets and technology had not been met satisfactorily.  The issue of an ageing population and the reluctance of youth to look at informal means of employment and work, have led to a dearth of skilled labour, despite official figures reflecting a very low unemployment rate of approximately 4%.
Policy makers as well as providers of education,  including institutions that provide tertiary and vocational education, have struggled to keep pace with the demand for skills. The failure to tap into a fairly well educated female populace to be part of the workforce, in comparison with other regional counterparts  is another issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. The low levels of cooperation between training institutions and employers have added to these woes.
The implications of the current labour market situation in the country are manifold.  Employers constantly complain of a skills mismatch and an analysis of this situation reveals that there is in fact, a dearth in relation to core skills as well as soft skills. The requirement, however, is not confined to those in management.  Educationists have identified the lack of cognitive skills as a major issue and  policy makers have responded by reorganizing curricula to mitigate the situation. 
Closer to the concept of sustainable enterprise and particularly in creating an enabling environment for these institutions to thrive, is the essential requirement to engage those with right skills to meet the demand.  In doing so, we must not forget workers who have considerable experience working in different industries and sectors and have acquired competencies. Such competencies could be better utilized by a mechanism of assessing and certifying their skills.  The concept of Recognizing and Prior Learning (RPL) based on National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) Standards is not something new and is well worth revisiting. This will ensure that the training given to thousands of workers by their employers and work experience, in form of ‘investment’ are accounted for.  
The Singapore experience of promoting higher skills and their recognition had led to many positive outcomes both in relation to sustaining enterprises as well as providing security and empowerment to workers, other than in the context of a permanent job.  ‘Skill security’ and  greater ‘mobility of skills’ are two aspects that would benefit a country like ours. Unfortunately, a majority of workers who depart the island for work, possess  lower-skills which make their earning capacity very low. On the contrary, those whom we seek and get down from overseas possess higher skills with greater potential to earn.  The dearth of skilled labour in the construction industry, which has seen a greater number of migrant workers coming to Sri Lanka for work is a good example.  Conversely, many Sri Lankans still seek work overseas in domestic service, but this has led to many negative implications for both their families and themselves.  Best practices from countries such as Philippines have shown that there is much potential if those departing for work possess higher skills that are certified.  The ability to converse in the language of their destination, such as in the case of Sri Lankan workers who travel to South Korea and those who have been able to integrate into their society at a much faster pace, is a good practice to follow considering the positive outcomes.  
EFC’s recent initiatives in relation to Recognizing Prior Learning and Experience (RPL) and Certification in terms of the National Vocational Qualification Standards (NVQ Standards) as well as the promotion of the concept of a ‘Skills Passport’ were formulated for implementation with the objective of achieving multiple results. Apart from promoting Universal Skills Recognition and Certification that would benefit all Sri Lankans in terms of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ), the system allows our people to match their qualifications with those in countries that they aspire to work in. They will also have the additional benefit of being certified in terms of language competence. The eventual benefits would include Sri Lanka possessing a data base of ‘skilled human capital’ and lead to safe and orderly migration of Sri Lankans, particularly those seeking work overseas, thus safeguarding the interests of both the country as well her people. It will also encourage host countries to create more opportunities for Sri Lankans and enhance their ability to negotiate better terms for themselves. Tapping into the resources of returning migrant workers for country’s own requirements will be another positive outcome. We would also encourage the state policy makers to consider ‘training provided by employers’ as an investment made for the benefit of the country and consider granting fiscal incentives for employers who do so. Those who create opportunities for youth by engaging more interns, trainees and job opportunities for youth should be similarly rewarded. 
The partnership between employers and training institutions would enable a window to the real world of work and hopefully lead to a manageable solution to the issue of ‘mis-matches’ in skills. 
The failure to implement proper systems to attract youth in relation to disciplines and vocations that are considered essential for the country’s benefit, lead to disastrous consequences.  The causes of the civil disturbances that took place in the early 70s and the latter part of the 80s as well as the reasons for almost 800,000 young people below the age of 30 presently driving three wheelers, are relevant examples. 
It has been our experience over the last few years in dealing with youth issues, that a solution would lie in developing an appropriate curricula for children in primary and secondary education.  Learning of basic principles should commence at an early stage and teaching of cognitive skills as well as soft skills such as languages, presentation skills and confidence-building measures should be inculcated at a very early stage.  Those who do not succeed in exams should be encouraged to take up disciplines and vocations that are required for the nation’s economic development.  Hence, career-guidance should be included at every stage in the development and education of children. Moreover, undergraduates  and those from technical and vocational training institutes alike should be encouraged to work part time and get an invaluable insight into how businesses work. 
Needless to state that there is a reciprocal obligation on the part of policy makers as well as employers to create value for such vocations and ensure dignity of labour for those who perform work that is of a highly skilled nature.A value system for work should be developed based on skills linked to remuneration preferably at national level. A good example is the Australian case where even a plumber can earn equal or more than some professionals engaged in traditional disciplines such as the legal field.  
Creation of jobs and work opportunities should be encouraged and essential labour market reforms should be brought in periodically and without political favour.  Laws that take into account digitalization of the world of work and the creation of new opportunities should be made a priority.  Diverse forms of employment – particularly those which encourage greater participation of women  should be encouraged. Archaic laws that negatively discriminate women and those  which prevent them from working in the night should be repealed. Promotion of inclusive workplaces, including those which afford opportunities for persons with disabilities, should also be considered a priority. 
Despite being a small nation compared to our neighbours, our strategic location and the culture that we have inherited can also bring us rich dividends aside from the economic ones.With tax holidays and other benefits offered by countries to attract foreign direct investments becoming a norm, Sri Lanka, with an educated population, has much potential to emerge as a skills hub of the world.
Article source: Lankan Isle 

scroll back to top
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 13:23