Include skills development, vocational training in education curriculum - Prof. Dayantha Wijeyesekera | Sunday Observer

Include skills development, vocational training in education curriculum - Prof. Dayantha Wijeyesekera

Emeritus Prof. Dr. Dayantha S. Wijeyesekera
Emeritus Prof. Dr. Dayantha S. Wijeyesekera

Changes to the education curriculum should be brought about by incorporating new aspects of skills development and vocational training. Innovation should be encouraged in all areas of learning, Chancellor, University of Vocational Technology, Emeritus Prof. Dr. Dayantha S. Wijeyesekera said.

By promoting small and medium scale industries it is possible to create jobs. The better jobs are the ones with the attributes of employment and work security and occupational health and safety - mainly in the hands of employers.The government can facilitate economic collaboration with other countries to increase production which will generate more employment.

The corporate sector should focus on how to create decent jobs with attractive employment terms and conditions to fill vacancies. Policy makers should realize that policy is a guide to action. It is necessary to study the important sectors and develop growth oriented policies with implementable strategies after careful consideration, to bridge the skills gap that is continuously hampering the job market, Prof. Wijeyesekera said in an interview with Business Observer.

Prof. Wijeyesekera is also the Chairman Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, Adviser, Public and Private Tertiary Education and Consultant - Civil Engineering and Tertiary Education Development.

Excerpts:

Q. What are your observations on Sri Lanka’s current job market and the education system?

A. The job market is characterized by agriculture, industry and the services sector. Growth is seen in the services sector in terms of revenue generation. In terms of employment, it is the services sector which has the larger percentage of employment (46%) in employed population. Agriculture sector employment is 27.1 percent and industrial sector 26.4 percent.

The job market is composed of formal jobs (40 percent) and informal jobs (60 percent). A large number of informal jobs are in the agriculture sector.

The education system comprises a) General education - primary and secondary b) Higher education - includes universities and degree awarding institutes, and c)Tertiary and Vocational education. Secondary schools nurture good citizens. Tertiary education gives people a focus on knowledge in a range of streams.

All these people have job related skills and attitudinal issues as expressed by employers. The tertiary and vocational education system has been subject to reforms within the NVQ framework over the past 15 years.

Traditional time based training has been transforming to being competency based as per national competency standards developed in consultation with industry employers. Employers complain of skills mismatches which authorities try to sort out within the NVQ system.

Q. At a recent conference, you said that Sri Lankans should get out of the ‘O/L, A/L and degree’ mentality. Please elaborate.

A. Traditional systems promote students to qualify at GCE O-level, A-level and enter University. While this route becomes more competitive with limited places in State universities those who qualify at O-level or with degrees do not appear to be prepared for employment.

As employers expect people with working abilities or competencies rather than to be only good citizens, it is better to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes related to vocations in industry so that people can find work and earn an income to live and support a family.

Also the insistence of repeating the O and A level examinations when unsuccessful could lead to frustration and a desperate state of unemployment. Even after graduation, if skills are not developed for employment it could lead to the same result.

Q. Should there be a policy decision to allow young people to follow technical courses after O/Ls, enter the job market and earn a degree at some time in the future?

A. It is better for youth who do not have much cognitive skills to join the vocational sector and acquire skills to find work in industry. They can gradually gain higher competencies in the NVQ system and get a degree in the relevant field while being employed.

Q. Should there be a more open education system and should the Open University offer these facilities again?

A. This is an option to ponder as there are people who need flexible delivery of education programs as they cannot attend regular full time courses due to employment and personal issues. When there is open entry students could start at ‘Foundation Level’ gaining admission through ‘lateral entry’ to climb up the ladder. Through distance education they could ‘learn while they earn’. In some countries this avenue is available even for adults.

Q. What will the job market be like in the next ten years?

A. When we look at changes to the economic structure of the country, we can see a change in the services sector. This trend is expected to continue in the next decade.

We may expect an expansion in transport (sea, land, air and canals), banking and finance including insurance and leasing, retails trade, tourism and health in the services sector. Hence more jobs may be created in these sectors. It is imperative to promote ‘job creators than only job seekers’.

However, with industry expansion in new economic zones jobs would be generated in many industry sectors.

Q. What kind of education (vocational stream) should young people focus on?

A. In all growing sectors including construction, tourism / hospitality and other services sector jobs there is scope for expansion of the vocational stream and the NVQ system provides for same.

Q. What is your experience about working with young people in Sri Lanka (their skills)? What facilities should be provided to improve them?

A. It could be said that their cognitive level is sufficient to acquire skills in technological areas. Also entrepreneurship intentions should be positive for new startups. Specific technological training in growing sectors can be provided with soft skills.

Modern training facilities with simulations may be useful for improving existing skills. Of course there has to be efficient career guidance for youth at school and perhaps parents and teachers should also be advised.

Q. How can better jobs be created?

A. By promoting small and medium scale industries it is possible to create jobs. Better jobs are jobs with employment security, work security and occupational health and safety attributes. This is mainly in the hands of employers in the industry. By facilitation, the government also can enter into economic collaboration with other countries to increase production which generates more employment.

Q. Reports say that there are a lot of vacancies in sectors such as apparel, construction and tourism, but there are no takers. What is the solution you propose?

A. This is mainly due to skills mismatches as we do not sometimes respond to the dynamic needs of the labour market. Therefore, providers need to take heed of the needs of these sectors.

Q. There is also complaints by the corporate sector that even they offer internships to graduates, they find it difficult to get employees. What steps can be taken to overcome this situation?

A. Employers expect good soft skills when they recruit people which the youth may not possess at the start. Furthermore, employment terms of the corporate sector may not look attractive to prospective interns. (Low salaries, late work, excess work). However, internship schemes should be improved and promoted as a valuable dual training mode.

Q. Sri Lanka has a major issue with regard to the R&D sector and innovation. Commercial production happens very rarely. There is a huge gap between our knowledge and production. How could this gap be bridged?

A. This is true because our general education curriculum does not give much attention to R & D and innovations. But in developed countries the situation is different and much attention is given to practical aspects rather than only theoretical aspects.

Therefore, it is necessary to bring changes to curriculum by incorporating practical and new aspects of skills development and vocational training. Need to encourage innovations in almost all areas of learning.

Q. What message would you like to share with young graduates, corporate leaders and policy makers?

A. While exploring all alternate avenues for further education, new graduates should try and acquire soft skills in the areas of collaboration and teamwork, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, entrepreneurial, environment literacy, information technology, learning and innovation, lifelong learning and career development.

The Corporate sector should focus on how to create decent jobs with attractive employment terms and conditions to enable them to fill their existing vacancies.

Finally policy makers should realize that policy is a guide to action. Therefore, it is necessary to study the important sectors and develop growth oriented policies with implementable strategies after careful consideration to bridge the skills gap that is continuously hampering the job market at present. 

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