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