UNLOCKED Blog 6: Our Toughest Hurdle; Unemployment

19 Mar 2015

It seems that almost everywhere I turn these days, I encounter some friend or peer caught up in the arduous journey of finding a job. While I’m fortunate enough to say that I don’t share in their woes of being unemployed, I feel a pang of sympathy for all those people who have struggled in more ways than one to study and earn a degree, with the only result of not being able to secure a job. It often comes to a point where they look at me and say “you don’t have a degree yet no? So how come you have a job?” at which point I become uncomfortable and explain my great fortune of securing a job through my efforts as an intern.

It is evident that youth unemployment poses one of the toughest challenges to inclusive development and sustainable growth, as it excludes the most important and most resourceful sector of our society. It creates an overwhelming sense of frustration and disenchantment among the youth because in countries such as ours, where the competitive education system is entirely modelled on securing a sound job, failure to secure meaningful and satisfying employment has woven a bleak future for the youth of Sri Lanka.

The following are some facts on youth unemployment in Sri Lanka, along with certain policies I believe might be effective in overcoming them.

1.  According to the Sri Lanka National Human Development Report (2014) on ‘Youth and Development: Towards a More Inclusive Future’ (NHDR), the rate of unemployment of youth between the ages of 15 – 29 remains to be greater than those aged 30 – 40+.

·  If the education system was restructured and tailored to the job market and the structure of the economy, school leavers would be far more successful in securing employment. This could be achieved by thoroughly examining the type of skills and qualifications most frequently sought after, and mainstreaming it into national curriculum. Interactions between the private sector and vocational training institutes could also help in achieving this goal.

·  Greater emphasis needs to be placed on mathematics, as it hones analytical and logical thinking skills, thereby equipping students with the ability to think scientifically. This could then spur innovation, which could translate into long term benefits for themselves and the economy.

·  Subsidized vocational training programs for children after their Ordinary Level and Advanced Level Examination could be created and promoted extensively among school goers. Programs that teach children how to create CVs, how to apply for a job, how to carry on a professional telephone conversation etc. would be invaluable in terms of securing employment in the future.

2.  As stated in the NHDR, the National Youth Survey of 2013 revealed that around 60% of unemployed youth were women, despite women achieving a higher level education in comparison with their male counterparts.

·   Greater female participation in the labour force can be achieved by creating greater incentives for women to get involved. For example, attractive maternity leave benefits, mandatory check out time, etc.

·   We need to change the mindsets of young girls at the school level. Most women in Sri Lanka fall prey to the age-old mindset that a woman’s role is in the household (the number of times people have remarked that if I can’t cook, no one would want to marry me is beyond infuriating!). However, programs conducted by the Department of Education in schools, wherein successful businesswomen could speak to young girls candidly about work experience, could go a long way in bridging the gender gap that exists in the labour force.

3.  Entrepreneurship involves self-employment. In this present context, where governments are expected to create 600 million jobs over the next 10 years, in order to secure employment for the unemployed as well as the 40 million expected entrants to the job market, youth entrepreneurship could go a long way in alleviating this burden on the state and its resources.

·  Entrepreneurship must be further encouraged among youth by conducting workshops and programs in schools, as well as creating courses relating to it.

·   Career advice for those wishing to pursue entrepreneurship, as well as resources to do so must be readily available to those who need it. For this purpose, a National Entrepreneurship Centre could be set up.

It seems that these chronic challenges have posed the toughest impediments to economic prosperity and the well-being of youth in Sri Lanka for decades. As a country recovering from a civil war that left many youth with a bitter perspective of the future, it is important to ensure that they are integrated into society and given the chance to increase the quality of their lives.

Employment is perhaps the best way to do so. 

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