Youth unemployment in Sri Lanka: The foundations of violence?

In an interview broadcast on public TV recently, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social Studies at the Open University of Sri Lanka and co-author of Rethinking the nexus between youth, unemployment and conflict – Perspectives from Sri Lanka looks into what is a real and growing problem in Sri Lanka – youth unemployment. As the report by International Alert notes,

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 educational curricula and job market requirements do not match, will not be sufficient to overcome these barriers.

In the interview. Dr. Amarasuriya speaks of a 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 implement the recommendations of. She also unpacks some of the assumptions behind youth unemployment in Sri Lanka, and connections to socio-political unrest. She also looks into the problems of getting employed in the private sector, and how language and social connections influence job prospects.

Noting that unemployment amongst women is almost double that of men, Dr. Amarasuriya observes that gender stereotypes and cultural constraints have implications about the jobs that youth can do, and choose to do. She also warns that post-war, the growing unemployment amongst youth in the country can lead to heightened frustration and the possibility of another youth insurrection, or the type of rioting that London experienced in 2011. She also expresses her 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 the interview, Dr. Amarasuriya explores the space for youth to express themselves and how culture and arts also play a fundamental role in addressing problems related to youth.

The Institute of Policy Studies Sri Lanka has created a Google Moderator based interactive platform to get the public’s ideas on how more and better jobs can be created in Sri Lanka, in line with a new World Bank report on the same lines. There are already some interesting ideas online.

At the time of writing, some of the thoughts published online were,

“Creating more jobs would mean creating more job creators – Sri Lanka must focus on breeding young entrepreneurs who can start and grow businesses, and start providing more jobs”
Sheran, Colombo

“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.”
Ash, Sri Lanka

“Engaging emerging economies in the East, particularly through trade agreements and regional value chains, may help lead to growth among firms operating in Sri Lanka, thereby providing an essential foundation for job creation.”
CK, Colombo

“More youth need to see vocational training as a viable and “respectable” option if they don’t get in to uni. This will help them be better geared to the job opportunities that will become available in a growing Sri Lankan economy”
Avinash, Wattala

“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.”
NP, colombo

  • http://N/A OpenEyes

    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 mobilisation 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.

    However, anecdotal evidence suggests that young people appear to require external stimuli as they are not confident to initiate change under their own aegis. It therefore follows to propose a dedicated research programme which helps identify the parameters of non engagement and ways for building confidence and realising potential. Specifically, research which explains the obstacles and opportunities which confront young cohorts in contemporary Sri Lanka is likely to pinpoint measures which may help young people to apply their energy constructively.

    Business initiatives for the young
    In addition to ideas developed for stimulating greater entrepreneurship among the general public, existing research identifies a number of pointers which could benefit younger cohorts. Individual, future oriented entrepreneurial models to solve some of youth economic problems seem to be a logical option. This strongly suggests that new businesses are most likely to succeed if younger cohorts are given privileged access to the resources which help build SMEs. At the same time, while young people may be aware of their potential and ability to change things, they often lack the triggers that lead to concrete action.

    * Educate young people about the importance of self-employment. I would like to advise policy makers to explore the possibility of targeting schools and tertiary education establishments with experienced figures from commerce as well as young successful entrepreneurs. In addition, an outline of the abilities and skills necessary for career in business could be discussed to help young people to gauge if they are likely to succeed. In addition, seminars for discussing concrete business ideas may complement this intervention.

    Enhancements to marketable skills
    In addition to education, there is a need to provide more occupational training and to increase the overall professional competence of young Sri Lankan citizens.

    * Expand current endeavours of placing young people in industry for a limited period of time. This way, young people can learn skills which are likely to increase their employment potential. For companies such placements are a good opportunity for optimising their recruitment strategy. At the same time, seminars run by representatives of different industrial sectors could introduce young people to the required skills. This measure could complement industrial placements and establish direct contact between job seekers and hiring companies

    Grants and loans to meet the auxiliary cost of education
    The many young I have discussed such matters with, insist that access to tertiary and vocational training can be challenging because of the auxiliary cost such as subsistence, travel and materials.

    * To this end it appears appropriate to support young people with grants and loans. However, it appears equally appropriate to make grants conditional on the completion of the course and above average achievement

    Education abroad
    Education abroad is often sought by young people. While it is not clear that exchange programmes will work in all instances, it may well be the case that placing young SL citizens in education programmes abroad is a viable alternative.

    * Suggest placing SL students in other SARC universities and colleges for a period of one academic year

    * Vocational training courses abroad could be operated in much the same way as academic placements

    More room for the young in the media
    Young people say they feel under represented in the media. Their specific concerns tend not to be addressed.

    * It may prove mutually beneficial to invite SL media editors and representatives of youth organisations to a conference which would enhance awareness of youth specific themes and help editors to market their output to younger cohorts in a more efficient manner

    Support for collective youth action at local level including political activity
    Young people are largely outside of the political process. Young people especially have difficulty in identifying politics as a vehicle for realising their aspirations. Many of their political ideas are spontaneous and emotive rather than based on facts. At the same time the organisation of youth interests appears under developed. It is not inconceivable that greater social organisation of young people may stimulate their initiative and help them voice their concerns more effectively. Initially however, it appears that young cohorts would benefit from seminars in civic engagement.

    * Recruit and train facilitators who visit local youth centres in order to stimulate and organise youth activity

    * Run seminars in civic engagement. Such seminars could explain the political structure and actors of SL introduce participants to constitutional issues and discuss ways for young people to realise their aspirations through an involvement in the political process

    * Explore the possibility of networking youth centres and similar organisations in order to provide an institutional framework for motivating the young. In addition, such endeavours may help proliferate activity and be an important contribution to both networking and social cohesion among the young

  • Frustrated youth

    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 NGOs. Young people who have initiative and their own ideas are often penalized by the senoir 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 (less so in business) which must be changed to enable youth in Lanka to blossom..