“If we are to achieve what Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea did some time ago and even to a certain extent what India is doing right now, we need to gear our labour force to migrate to more high-tech industries,” observes Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC Deputy General Manager Human Resource Management Isuru Tillakawardana.
Tillakawardana will be moderating the session ‘Reskilling for the future’ at the upcoming Employers’ Symposium to be held on November 9, organised by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) under the theme of ‘Repositioning Sri Lanka - Meeting the employment challenges of the fourth industrial revolution’.
This year’s theme of the symposium is aligned with the changing business paradigms resulting from the technological advancements, particularly in the realms of information and communication. The symposium will draw experts from some of the leading EFC member corporates who will bring under the spotlight topical employment-related issues with the ultimate objective of finding sustainable solutions that would enable employers to incorporate best practices and employment strategies suited for their organisations. The technical sessions and case studies are assured to inspire the private sector to regain its position as the growth engine of the national economy.
Urging for a paradigm shift in bridging the skills gap, which is crucial at a juncture when Sri Lanka is aspiring a macroeconomic transition, Tillakawardana further notes that this leap should be tri-pronged. “The traditional agriculture-driven space, vocational qualifications and the service industry – all these aspects should be redesigned as the country approaches the US $ 4000 per capita level.”
He also bemoans the ‘bottle necks’ which are created in the job market resulting from traditional mindsets conceived in the colonial times, driving many to queue up for government jobs.
“The future labour force in the country should consider exploring less-traversed career paths which are not only in high demand but also offer better earning capacities than traditional careers.”
The gulf between the state and the private sector in terms of reskilling the workforce can be mitigated to a large extent by the former adopting the best practices of the private sector, opines Tillakawardana. Despite the state institutions investing significantly in training the staff, there is a question of creating value for money’s worth, which is largely attributed to ‘structural issues’ within state organisations, says Tillakawardana, who cites the Singapore experience as a solution in this regard.
“Some of the top companies in Singapore are government-owned yet they run on different business principles, thereby generating a lot of revenue and offering better services to people. This is a model we need to replicate in terms of labour relations and managing government-owned businesses.”
Enabling networking among vocational institutes, private sector and even schools is imperative in grooming a potential workforce that could meet the demands of future world of work, asserts Tillakawardana.
“Some of our vocational training institutes are proven centres of excellence which have produced technically-capable persons, which however, operate in isolation.”
He also draws attention to the significant brain drain of technicians in the fields of construction, motor engineering, etc., resulting in an acute dearth of manpower in the country. The social value system of the country, which is very much ‘white-collar’ oriented too discourages the youth from pursuing such jobs locally, which on the other hand would be willingly explored on foreign soil, owing to dignity of labour abroad.
The existing labour laws of the country not only impede creating jobs but also indirectly nourishes ‘complacency’, maintains Tillakawardana. “Because of the protection granted by legislative provisions, complacency has set in at the cost of an entire nation.”
These outmoded laws also do not recognize flexible work arrangements and other global trends such as outsourcing which makes business suffer and the country lag behind. Tillakawardana also maintains that employers should be given more autonomy to lay off unproductive employees which in turn propels employees to better themselves by acquiring new skills and competencies.
Commending the EFC’s efforts in bringing diverse business sectors to a common platform through the Employers’ Symposium, a dialogue at a macro level is enabled, observes Tillakawardana, which otherwise would have been confined to individual industry level. Such a cross-industry holistic dialogue is an effective vehicle in disseminating a collective voice to policymakers in formulating policies for businesses to thrive, he adds.