Paradigm shift in poverty alleviation : A down - up approach for employment | Sunday Observer

Paradigm shift in poverty alleviation : A down - up approach for employment

Vocational training aims at job market requirements
Vocational training aims at job market requirements

Leaving the needy behind is a burden on the country, irresponsibility of a society and a nursery ground for anti-social elements, such as drug addicts, peddlers and even underworld gangsters.

Recent media reports on families of abject poverty exposed some darker aspects of Sri Lanka even after 70 years of independence. However, children of some of such families emerging to the top at the GCE Advanced Level examination the results of which were released recently, indicate hope even in families of penury given an opportunity.

Affliction of poverty can mainly be traceable to the crucible of imperialism. During the colonial period before 1948, imperial rulers managed resources and people of the country, and they were the ones who provided employment for the people.

Their main objective was to extract resources, including labour exploitation to make their motherland rich. They brought people from their country for the top layer of their management hierarchy, and for bottom layers, especially clerical work, they trained Sri Lankan people who showed loyalty to them, by establishing a network of denominational schools.

A majority of citizens were relegated as labourers in estates set up to farm crops, such as tea, rubber, coffee and cinammon to cater to the needs of the imperialist nations.

Those who showed reasonable apptitude in areas which help cement exploitative tentacles of imperialist nations and those who were loyal to them were provided employment in categories held high among the people, spawning government sector employees and with them a layer of white collar jobs.

Government employees were provided added security later with the establishment of a pension scheme for them, which caused more enticement for government jobs which had already been the main source of employment in the country.

Even after independence, there has been a certain procedure for the provision of government employment, such as from competitive examinations and as per degrees from universities though some avenues had been open on political recommendations.

However, a larger section of society has been left out of government jobs with some opting for private sector jobs with the development of the private sector and some others opting for self-employment.

Nonetheless, in the past, providing employment was not a major issue as many people were engaged in subsistence agriculture and related activities.

With the concept of white collar jobs gaining popularity coupled with privileged positions offered to government employees in society, an issue involving providing jobs for the increasing job aspirants was in the making. However, the lack of a government initiative for vocational training and the lack of social recognition for vocations such as carpentry, masonry and agriculture, aggravated the issue.

Meanwhile, successive governments didn’t pay much attention to the youth who were left out of the mainstream education system, leaving them to their own devices. The governments were unable to accommodate even those who received higher education in their job allotments.

Thus, resultant youth marginalisation and economic deprivation created youth unrest, leading to two youth insurrections in the south in the 1970s and the 80s and one in the North.

Unfortunately, many northern politicians made political capital from the issue to grab votes from the unsuspecting masses to get them elected to political bodies and camouflaged youth unrest common to the whole country as a mere ethnic issue, leading to a separatist war, spanning nearly for three decades ending in a bloodbath.

South Asian countries have ‘honour societies’ where people are engaged in a sort of competition to gain status over the others and earn respect. White collar jobs have an important role to play in ‘honour societies’ where sedentary work is accorded a superior status over labour intensive work. Therefore, jobs involving physical labour came to be regarded as inferior to non-labour intensive jobs, resulting in disproportionate thrust towards the latter.

The net result of the cumulative effect of this status linked socio-cultural polarisation is that the demand of the Sri Lankan labour market is met disproportionately with many people gravitating towards sedentary work.

The case of many youth opting for trishaw driver jobs, ignoring well paid productive agriculture and industrial sector jobs, indicates the seriousness of the issue which needs a paradigm shift of public opinion and the government policy to ensure that the demand of the job market is met guaranteeing socio-economic stability.

The new government has laid down a program to provide youth with vocational training, aiming at meeting job market requirements involving the marginalised in gainful employment. Successive governments formulated various programs to alleviate poverty with many aiming to provide the needy with financial benefits, such as Samurdhi and Janasaviya though little were their efforts to provide the needy with gainful employment or equip them with vocational training either to be employed in industries or empowering them to venture into their own industries or vocations.

The fact that governments launched a top-down approach to provide employment for the people, left the marginalized out of the equation making them perennially poor. Only a very limited number of youth who sit for the GCE Advanced Level examination enter universities, leaving others behind, especially the bottom stratum of society. Governments should have focused more specifically on those who cannot enter the universities since those who enter the universities will somehow be empowered to gain employment, while those who are left out of the higher education path may end in despair due to lack of career opportunities.

But successive governments have been unable to evolve a reasonable program to empower the youth who are left out of higher education and therefore, there is a big vacuum to be filled by devising a viable vocational training program or by absorbing them into the main steam education system with fitting modifications to suit the job market.

In addressing the issue of poverty, there should be a two-pronged framework with one providing training for the youth of needy families and the other offering employment for them as the issue, which has been largely left unattended for decades, needs strong commitment.

As Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them,” it is incumbent upon the government which is the managing authority in the country to address the issue of poverty with systemic change.

The new government has, thus, come up with a novel program to effect a paradigm shift in the provision of employment with a down-up approach in which persons of needy families are selected and trained for government jobs.

Leaving the needy behind is a burden on the country, irresponsibility of a society and a nursery ground for anti-social elements, such as drug addicts, peddlers and even underworld gangsters.

In this backdrop, the government’s program to provide a share of government jobs to the members of needy families could be flagged as an innovative, timely approach to address a burning issue which has held the country back on the socioeconomic front for decades.