Shyama Salgado, National Programme Coordinator of International Labour Organisation (ILO), spoke at “Generation to Generation for Our Sri Lanka” dialogue organised by UNFPA Sri Lanka on 16 December 2015 in Colombo. The event was meant to highlight the shifting population dimensions within Sri Lanka’s society.
Her focus was more on equipping today’s youth with the right skills and tools to make them more efficient and competent when they start working.
She said, “What is key for young people for sustaining themselves at work? It is their negotiation skills and other soft skills. And this is why there is a distinct difference between qualification and education. Qualifications are required in an academic or technical environment but education is what you get in your school, as well as at workplace and at home”.
In the current context, Sri Lanka’s tertiary education does not prepare young people adequately to enter the workforce. They lack several vital skills, Shyama explains.
“You have to work on your negotiating skills. At work, you need to have respect for diversity, respect for women and men, respect for different generations you’re working with — that is precisely why most of our graduates cannot find their niche. This is why graduates cannot find work. The first place is the (job) interview they cannot market themselves”.
Speaking about employment of women, she says that they disadvantaged to a great degree simply because of their social role.
Women are often not selected at job interviews as employers are reluctant to afford maternity leave. Shyama explained, “this is an attitude change that should come from top. If a woman is interviewed and she is in her reproductive stage she will be asked do you think you’ll get pregnant very soon? Whereas a man could come to the same table with the full option package – cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure – but he will never be asked, do you think you will get a heart attack next month? Never”.
She went on to say that if we wish to harness the energy of all the young people, including women, to take us through the current trajectory of development as a full-fledged middle-income country, we must change the structural mechanisms of the work place.
She added: “We should encourage young people to change their attitudes that leads to them thinking that if you have a qualification you are educated enough”.