Solving graduate unemployment | Sunday Observer

Solving graduate unemployment

7 October, 2018

Much has been said about graduate unemployment lately, but, this issue is nothing new. What is new and disturbing, is the persistent nature of the problem. In the past, the problem was more cyclical and demand-related, but with the growth of technological and specialised fields in the country, it appears, the problem has become more structural.

According to the Unemployed Graduate Association, the number of unemployed graduates in the country is around 53,000, who are demanding a solution.

To find a solution, it is important to understand the causes for this segment’s unemployment. Overall, Sri Lanka has a very low unemployment rate for a developing country. Yet, plenty of vacancies exist if the applicants have the right skills and qualifications. It is obvious then, the basic reason is that these graduates are not armed with the skills and qualifications that match the requirements of the job market.

Most professionals, in the public and the private sector, agree on this reasoning. This is a classic demand and supply situation.

When the private sector’s labour requirements are not being met by the local graduates, they prefer to hire graduates qualified in recognised foreign degrees. Some companies even prefer young non-graduates with good exposure to sports and other extra-curricular activities to be trained on-the-job.

The private sector today, prefers applicants with hands-on-experience of Information Technology (IT), Management, Marketing, Human Resource Management and related services. When the graduates possess the appropriate knowledge and skills demanded by the labour market, they would become more employable.

So, the bottom line is not an oversupply of graduates, rather an inability of the graduates to meet the requirements demanded by the labour market.

Some educational experts believe, the expansion of our university enrolment some years ago without a proper vision or plan has directly contributed to graduate unemployment.

Changing labour market

Another reason is the globalisation which is in full swing, resulting in a competitive market environment, and the increasing pace of technological change.

Therefore, labour market employment opportunities too are rapidly evolving.

Our universities should change curricula and training methods so that their students will be well equipped to adapt to these changes.

It means, English Language and communication skills, exposure to IT experience, and analytical thinking are some skills required by the labour market, whereas some other skills are becoming obsolete.

Role of higher education

The impetus to a higher level of development of any country’s economy lies in the general educational achievement of the country’s citizens. Sri Lanka is no exception.

It has been proven by statistical data, that educational attainment is one thing and the right preparation for the world of work is quite another.

The ability of students to succeed is determined, not only by the degrees they earn, but also by the quality and relevance of what they learn to the changing labour market.

The employment prospects of graduates are of importance, not only to the individuals themselves, but also to the country at large.

Spending time at a university should not serve only as a preparation for a job or a career. Most faculties have had to continuously reconsider the structure and contents of their courses to enhance the employment prospects of their graduates.

But in all fairness, universities are not solely to blame.

To enhance the potential of graduates, the industry and the university need to understand what is happening in each other’s home territory, what needs to be tuned and how this could be achieved through constant consultation, monitoring and adjustment.

The Government and the corporate sector should also work in consonance with universities by formulating their own master plans for the next, say 5 -20 years, which could go a long way toward helping the latter churn out graduates needed by them. However, one should be mindful that not all can succeed in the same degree in this regard.

Outlook change

It may depend on the course content, at least as perceived by potential employers, and whether a specific faculty services a captive job market or an open job market. Faculties need to be changed to make their graduates relevant to, and successful in a competitive market environment.

Thus, the employability of graduates concerns not only the university but also the employers, and the necessary interaction between the two must be complementary so that the industry is ready to develop what the university initiates, and vice-versa.

Our public universities should change their current outlook as hallowed institutions for obtaining a degree or post-graduate degree. They should consider themselves as campuses where students enhance their knowledge and skills in their chosen discipline.

To achieve this, attributes such as, team work, communication, critical thinking, leadership and ethical conduct, must form an integral part of the curriculum.

The university education system must provide opportunities for students to develop their technical skills, especially, computer skills. In short, university education should be more focused on vocational themes, rather than on purely academic ones.

In addition, English language skills are also important in gaining employment, especially, in the private sector. For example, Arts Faculty graduates experience the greatest difficulties in seeking employment, as they are least likely to have the technical and language skills required for the private sector.

Unfortunately, most graduates do not realise the importance of English language skills until they commence seeking employment. Not only English, learning international languages like German, French, and Spanish will be very useful for them to secure foreign employment easily.

A long-term strategy is required to address the issue of graduate unemployment.

A feasible solution would be the joint efforts of the Government, universities, private sector and other organisations interested in higher education.