The new government of President Sirisena in their 100-day programme talks of creating a strategy to overcome the unemployment problem that affects our young people by putting in place a million jobs programme for local and foreign employment and for self-employment. One option would certainly be to export more labour oversees.
Today, Sri Lanka’s total remittance from abroad is in excess of US $ 6 billion. Many of our young unskilled people want to go oversees to mainly improve their earning capacity. Therefore, if we are serious about exporting more labour and semi-skilled labour to the world, it would make perfect sense for the Foreign Employment Bureau to study the opportunities available in those markets and make our people ready through targeted HRD interventions.
The challenge for Sri Lanka now is to build export industries with the large pool of labour we have and also by capitalizing on off-shoring and outsourcing. Furthermore, with Asia opening up for business, the economic opportunity for us to reform education and training with a bias for technological, scientific, service and industrial skills is now.
Like the Middle East, we cannot rely on rich natural resource endowments to generate foreign exchange or opportunities for our people, therefore as a country, growing technological, technical and commercial skills would help us to attract emerging MNCs looking to set up locations in Asia.
Creating new skills
For a start, we need to focus our education and training investment primarily to deliver the skills to leverage foreign direct investment (FDI) and regional manpower opportunities. Slowing levels of FDI growth together with increased competition, especially from China and India for that FDI, has put pressure on small countries like Sri Lanka to move up the ladder of skills sophistication very fast.
However, without a strong vocational and training system, it is virtually impossible to leverage MNCs for skills formation beyond the immediate needs of the firm. We need to have a standard level of skills in the workforce on which to build a system in which to incorporate the participation of the private actor.
Whether primarily public or private, there must be some overarching coordination and management knitting together to generate new energy within the education and training system. But as much as the structure of the general education and training system influences levels of private sector participation and public-private cooperation, its focus determines, to a large extent, the type and orientation of the skills and knowledge that will be most prevalent in the local labour force.
Therefore, the government should start an initiative to reform the education and training system to match the needs of industry, especially targeting MNCs manufacturing for export and MNCs looking to outsource.
One area in which Sri Lanka can make some headway in the short term to generate new productive employment is in the business services outsourcing area. The global out sourcing market for IT and related business services exceeded US $ 65 billion in 2014, with India exporting some US $ 54+ billion worth, almost the size of our gross domestic product (GDP).
With many global giants in the West in a sea of trouble, they are desperately looking to reduce their cost of operations by moving into low-cost destinations. Many of them in desperation to remain competitive are spreading operations globally and cherry-picking countries for their particular skills set.
Therefore, the industry and the government should look to leverage on the available opportunities by investing heavily to get our workforce ready for emerging new opportunities.