Sri Lanka’s total remittance in 2013 from abroad is expected to be in excess of $ 6.5 billion and the CB road map estimates that remittances would increase to U$D 9 Billion (9% of the GDP) by 2016 and $10 Billion by 2017. One of the reasons attributed to this increase and projected increase is due to the increase in the skilled and professional labour migration, 28% in 2013 and the movement of labour into new markets like South Korea. Many of our young unskilled people want to go overseas mainly to improve their earning capacity. Therefore, the challenge for Sri Lanka to grow to a $100 billion economy is to invest to improve the productivity of our labour force. We should look to improve our labour productivity levels to be in line with the tiger economies. That would help us to build export industries with the large pool of labour we have and also to capitalise on off-shoring and outsourcing. Furthermore, with Asia opening up for business, the economic opportunity for us to reform education and training with a bias for technological, scientific, service and industrial skills is now. Like the Middle East, we cannot rely on rich natural resource endowments to generate foreign exchange or opportunities for our people, therefore as a country, growing technological, technical and commercial skills would help us to attract emerging MNCs looking to set up locations both manufacturing and transaction processing hubs in Asia.
" One area in which Sri Lanka can make some headway in the short term is that of business services outsourcing. The global BPO and IT related business services is estimated to be around US$ 952 billion (it services $648 and BPO $304) in 2013, with India exporting some US$69 billion worth in 2012, greater than our GDP "
To improve the labour productivity for a start, we need to focus our education and training investment primarily to deliver the skills to leverage FDI and local, regional manpower opportunities. Slowing levels of FDI growth together with increased competition, especially from China and India for that FDI, has put pressure on small countries like Sri Lanka to move up the ladder of skills sophistication very fast. However, without a strong general education and training system, it is virtually impossible to leverage MNCs for skills formation beyond the immediate needs of the firm. We need to have a standard level of skills in the work force on which to build a system in which to incorporate the participation of the private sector. Whether primarily public or private, there must be some overarching coordination and management knitting together to generate new energy within the education and training system. But as much as the structure of the general education and training system influences levels of private sector participation and public-private cooperation, its focus determines, to a large extent, the type and orientation of the skills and knowledge that will be most prevalent in the local labour force. Therefore, the Government and the private sector should continue to reform the education and training system to match the needs of industry, especially targeting manufacturing for export and MNCs looking to outsource.
" If we are serious about exporting semi-skilled labour to the world, it would make perfect sense for the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment to study the opportunities available in those markets and make our people ready through targeted HRD interventions "
One area in which Sri Lanka can make some headway in the short term is that of business services outsourcing. The global BPO and IT related business services is estimated to be around US$ 952 billion (it services $648 and BPO $304) in 2013, with India exporting some US$69 billion worth in 2012, greater than our GDP. With many global giants 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 a 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. We have still a long way to go develop our own management standards and there is an urgent need to invest more in developing the human resource necessary to create a knowledge hub. In addition, we would need to showcase Sri Lanka as a business-friendly, energy-efficient, and IT - networked knowledge-hub in South Asia. Our goal must be to gain greater access to the regional education market especially from China, and the Middle East. In addition, we need to position Sri Lanka as an attractive destination for accessing top academic institutions, global companies and delivery excellence in services. Therefore the government’s vision to convert the country into a knowledge hub and also investing to develop the human capital to create and sustain the knowledge hub is a step in the right direction, which would however require greater private-public collaboration and also well-honed policy interventions.
(The writer is a thought leader in HR)
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