Youth (un)employment: A socio-economic challenge | Sunday Observer

Youth (un)employment: A socio-economic challenge

28 June, 2020

Youth employment for young starters has been a major challenge throughout the world for the past many decades and Sri Lanka is no exception. Adding to the ongoing crisis is the newly created issue of Coronavirus impact which has caused a more pressing challenge to Sri Lanka. Although educational attainments are on the rise year after year, getting a grip in the job market has become elusive to young Sri Lankans, particularly school leavers.

As per the Department of Education statistics, of the approximately, 267,000 students who sat the GCE Advanced Level examination, only around 35,000 get entry to universities. Of the balance, approximately 25,000 gain entry to various vocational training institutions, as per the records. However, there is another chunk of GCE Ordinary Level dropouts that is waiting to enter the job market.

As per the 2017 annual labour force survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics, an unemployed person is described as a person available and or seeking work and who did not work and has taken steps to find a job during the last four weeks and is ready to accept a job within the next two weeks. The country’s biggest socio-economic challenge is to find suitable employment to this substantial number who enters the job market annually.

At present youth unemployment has reached a perturbing 23.3% and needs urgent attention by the authorities as it could escalate alarmingly due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Sri Lanka’s definition of youth which is from the age of 15 to 29, in terms of the employment market can be more than it appears in statistics.

Salient factor

Unlike in the western world, in Sri Lanka, parents often financially support the basic needs of these unemployed youth who are usually not under any pressure financially at this age.

This can pose a threat to society as these youth who are without an aim or goal in life at the prime age may resort to various nefarious activities.

Although most parents are aware of this salient factor, they are helpless and unable to take action against their children due to long practised family values. This is an unacceptable fact, yet it is the bitter ground reality.

Although there is a clear mismatch of graduate qualifications with workforce needs, fortunately, on President Rajapaksa’s direction and as per his vision, the Government has offered employment to some 40,000 graduates in the public sector.

This move is an effort to solve at least a major part of graduate unemployment. However, the program was temporarily put on hold due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming parliamentary election. Nevertheless, the Government has assured the selected graduates that the offered jobs are awaiting them.

In his manifesto, the President has clearly defined his approach to eliminate the mismatch currently prevailing in graduate programs of Sri Lankan universities. He has plans to introduce more practical graduate programs suited to the market forces rather than going on with what universities offer at present.

Rural youth unemployment is a hidden and widespread segment in Sri Lanka. According to available information the largest number of unemployed youth is from rural areas, which is recorded as approximately over 350,000.

However, statistically unaccounted persons still living with families who have not claimed that they are looking for work can escalate this figure. Usually this group of youth is primarily educated up to secondary school level or even less.

Effective option

Often, the majority of this group cannot be motivated for the jobs available in urban areas. Almost all in this category speak only the Sinhalese language and do not possess any skills. Also, it is difficult for them to adjust to city life, hence, even if they are offered jobs, they tend to abandon them and return to the villages in a short period.

The segment of urban youth usually has better opportunities than the rural segment.

It is reported that these urban youth are choosy about their jobs and have unrealistic salary and other demands. Although more employment opportunities are available in urban areas, this attitude of many deprives them of the available job opportunities.

Technical and vocational training is considered as a very effective option for the youth after they sit the GCE Ordinary Level or GCE Advanced Level examination, or even for dropouts of middle school.

If the training is programmed to match the requirements of the job market, vocational training is one of the best choices to tackle the issue of first time job seekers. No doubt the few state institutions are trying their best to offer courses as a qualification to the youth.

However, it is imperative to reevaluate that the courses offered are up to date and contemporary in order to ascertain that the students are motivated enough to continue in the same line of vocation after the completion of the program.

This is because some students seek jobs elsewhere even after vocational qualifications due to varied reasons. Most students do not value the training offered free which otherwise none of them can afford at a private institution.

It is also important to appraise whether these vocational training programs enhance the employability of the students.

Since the inception of office, whenever he spoke on the subject, President Rajapaksa always emphasised that creating jobs is the solution to unemployment. He has paid attention particularly to the students who leave school after the GCE O/L and A/L examinations. In his address at the 2019 Viyathmaga Convention he said only 35,000 students can be accommodated in the 15 state universities and five degree awarding institutions, even though 170,000 students qualify yearly.

Sound solution

Hence, in chapter 4 of ‘Vistas of Prosperity & Splendour’, President Rajapaksa clearly outlines his vision on creating a possible graduate student, who is well disciplined and acquires the knowledge and skills required by the employment market.

His plan is to launch a program to enable all students who qualify at the A/L examination annually (except those who gain university entry), to continue their education up to a degree level qualification.

This action will reduce youth unemployment tremendously in the future. Along with planned, upgraded vocational training programs, this move will create a sound solution to this pressing issue.

Research indicates that continuous youth unemployment issues can have critical and harmful effects on the well being of society and the economy as a whole.

If youth unemployment continues to accumulate, the country will not be able to control the impact on society. Youngsters, particularly teenagers who leave school after GCE O/L and GCE A/L are more likely to face unemployment.

The creation of more jobs by strengthening the private sector and encouraging youth to become entrepreneurs is a strong solution to reduce youth unemployment.