A key remedy for youth unemployment | Sunday Observer
Vocational education

A key remedy for youth unemployment

26 December, 2021

Vocational learning plays a critical role in the skills development of youth and their employability. In Sri Lanka, employment placements are becoming more competitive with the accumulating year-on-year increase in job seekers, particularly school-leavers. The significance of skills development can be summed up as the difference between theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

Youth make up nearly a quarter of the total population in Sri Lanka: around five million. If not properly and carefully guided and directed, this energy-filled segment of society can pose societal threats shortly. Like in other countries, Sri Lankan youth also can be misguided on various nefarious activities if the right focus is not directed on them. Hence, binding youth to TVET education from early teens is one of the most productive steps the authorities can take to prevent such occurrences.

The impact of skill training and job readiness is immensely needed at this crucial juncture of the country. The economic state is in a dire state currently with the debt pile keep increasing rapidly. Youth unemployment and unrest can affect the country as a whole, creating more issues for the Government.

For example, unemployment and lack of economic prospects can push many of them into criminal acts, drug additions, and other anti-social acts that can result in a process of social violence. Given that, the Government will be forced to spare public funds on legal, correctional, and many other compulsory tasks.

Currently, youth with higher education opportunities with the local universities and affluent students who are given private-sector prospects for various educational disciplines, comparatively, have better openings in the job market. The rest comprise the vast majority, particularly from rural areas and less affluent families, who have lesser opportunities in the job market unless they are technically skilled in some area of work.


For example, according to the Ministry of Education data, in 2019, around 556,000 students have sat on GCE Ordinary Level examination. Of this number, only 236,000 students were qualified to proceed through to GCE Advanced Level. The remaining 300,000 students were dropouts without any significant technical or vocational competence when exiting the formal education system.

Similarly, of the total GCE (A/L) candidates of 181,000 who qualified for university education in 2019, admission to state universities was granted only for 41,000 (22%) students, leaving a gap of around 140,000. The figure keeps escalating year after year creating a noteworthy and critical employment requirement.

Although Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate is 4.8 percent last year, the youth unemployment of the population between the ages of 20 and 30 years stands at an alarming 19 percent. This age is recognised as the best employable age that can provide the highest contribution to the employer and the economy.

However, the irony is that even though the employers of the private sector retain numerous openings, they find it difficult to fill them due to the scarcity of skilled labour. This issue is an unremitting issue for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs.

The Sri Lankan technical education segment is said to have around 400 service-providing institutions in the public, private and NGO sectors. Most of these institutions provide education to school leavers to obtain National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), a certification accepted in Sri Lanka and some other countries. Hence, the program initiated by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) has thus far provided considerably admirable service to reduce youth unemployment.

Despite the competitiveness of formal higher education, most of the technical training organisations have a pressing problem of low enrolment due to the pessimistic attitude of social groups. Parents, when their children get through GCE Ordinary Level or Advanced Level examinations even with mediocre results, tend to wait for university education qualifications. Most often this can be a dreadful waste of precious time for the youth.


Most of the students who drop out of school education after the two milestones (GCE – O/L & A/L) are inclined to waste time, expecting worthy jobs. Only well-guided students opt to enter into technical education. Although the opportunities are plenty, either they are unenthusiastic or lack awareness about the opportunities provided by TVET education.

However, despite the number of TVET institutions, they are not without serious lapses and shortcomings of their own. Even the Central Bank reported that the sector is plagued by shortcomings due to low efficiency and falling short of meeting the country’s skill demand.

In the same report, the Central Bank highlighted that the TVET sector is highly fragmented and poorly coordinated with a large number of education service providers with their own regulatory panels and procedures.

The authorities must take these observations and facts into consideration seriously if they plan a genuine effort to improve the current situation. In this writer’s opinion, TVET education perhaps is the best remedy to reduce unemployment in the country in the foreseeable future.

TVET education given to youth effectively and productively produces countless benefits to the youth and the community at large. The most important among them is the skills development that leads to employability. Within a chosen discipline, the students are given a significant amount of theoretical knowledge while providing hands-on experience on procedures and methods used by professionals in the specific disciplines.

Students in vocational education and training set up spend hours in practical workshops learning tangible practical skills related to a specific field of work. Also, they get prospects of using specialised equipment, spaces, and proven methods of applying the skills. This provides students the opportunities to prepare themselves for their future jobs or self-employment.

New students join specific work fields as novices at TVET institutions. Trainers most often prefer absolute beginners, just out of school, as they can be trained easily. The students are offered competency-based vocational education, mostly to suit market demands. The students are given education and training on a precise discipline from the foundation where their employability can be leveraged more conveniently.

Lucrative option

For example, a student who chose motor mechanism as a TVE discipline, after the completion of the TVET program can straight away join an employer without going through tedious and time-consuming training stints. Any private-sector employer would be pleased to offer job opportunities for such candidates. On the contrary, as a more lucrative option, the TVET graduates can directly gain entry to self-employment or entrepreneurship, if they prefer to do so.

Private sector organisations spend a significant amount of money and time on training when they onboard their recruits. Usually, most often, these new employees go through a training process.

Therefore, employers always welcome new employees with trained skills not only to cut down costs but also to recruit specially trained cadres.

Private-sector employers believe that recruits with TVET backgrounds are better in performance than those who only possess academic education, in most of the functional areas of an organisation.

The general belief is that the productivity of staff trained by good TVET institutions contributes more to the growth of the organisation. Therefore, there is always a high demand for skilled people in the private sector.

No doubt that the Technical and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and the organisations such as VTA, DIET, NAITA, NYSC, and a few other private institutions try their best to offer the most effective education for students, despite many obstacles and challenges.

The Government must look at the TVET sector with renewed interest and prepare new strategies to develop the technical skills and competencies of the Sri Lankan workforce to ensure competitiveness in the global economy.

The key focus, however, must be to produce skilled workers for the local private sector that currently is in a clear shortage of skilled workers in many fields.

Also, special emphasis must be given to the overseas job market by providing quality technical and vocational education. This is to give more attention to enhancing foreign remittances from expatriate workers who are already providing the largest contributor to the economy.