By Praveena Vijayakumar
One key finding of many development practitioners is the near universal desire to invest in the young. The young are perceived as the greatest strength of any country. At the same time the mobilization of young people emerges as a key challenge. In fact, the overwhelming desire for selective out migration by the young Sri Lankans indicates that it is paramount to create conditions in Sri Lanka which are likely to convince its young citizens to remain in the country.
Likewise, youth unemployment cannot be looked at as an isolated problem: Its roots lie deep in social, cultural, economic and political structures and dynamics, as illustrated by some of the issues emerging from the district-level research. Enhancing young people’s skills, while necessary in countries where the educational curricula and job market requirements do not match, will not be sufficient to overcome these barriers.
This article will try to come up with the National Action Plan for Youth Employment, an initiative from a few years ago under the present government that no one now seems to recall, leave aside implementation of the recommendations.
It also unpacks some of the assumptions behind youth unemployment in Sri Lanka, and connections to socio-political unrest. And also looks into the problems of getting employed in the private sector, and how language and social connections influence job prospects.
Noting that unemployment among women is almost double that of men, I observe that gender stereotypes and cultural constraints have implications on the jobs that youth can pursue, and choose to do.
It’s important to note that post-war, the growing unemployment among youth in the country can lead to amplified frustration and the possibility of another youth insurrection. And also expresses that frustration with the secondary and tertiary education system, where practical problems of access, costs and training of teachers bedevil efforts to address the problem of youth who after school or upon graduation cannot find suitable work.
Towards the end of this article I wanted to explore that the space for youth to express themselves and also I would like to mention that culture and arts also play a fundamental role in addressing problems related to youth.
More youth need to see vocational training as a practical and “respectable” option if they don’t get in to university This will help them be better geared to the job opportunities that will become available in a growing Sri Lankan economy. Enhancing flexibility in both the education system and in the labour market is essential in enabling the economy to absorb the right type of workers into the right type of jobs. Engaging developing economies in the East, particularly through trade agreements and local value chains, may help lead to growth among firms operating in Sri Lanka, thereby providing an essential foundation for job creation and restructuring our education system to cater to new jobs being created in the world would bring in new investments to the country with lots of jobs.
One of the biggest obstacles for youth to be given space and voice is the absence of role models at a senior level who are willing to step down and step aside and let younger people take over and learn on the job. This is evident in the political culture in Sri Lanka where no one gives up power then their term limits have ended by law or in fact, (eg. Chandrika Bandaraniyake and Ranil Wickramasinghe) and in the NGO culture where 75 and 80 year olds still head these organisations. Young people who have initiative and their own ideas are often penalized by the senior generation rather than allowed to be creative and innovate.
This culture of the seniors always monopolizing things, being unwilling to share information with even their peers and certainly younger colleagues is part of an institutional culture, particularly in govt. and NGO sector which must be changed to enable youth in Lanka to blossom..
Praveena Vijayakumar is a law student beyond the reasonable doubt.