Sri Lanka’s Skills Shortage

“Besides, money:” What do you hope to gain from work? Is it security, challenge, advancement? Where do you think is the demand for your skills and abilities.”


by Victor Cherubim                                                                                                                   

( November 11, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The skills shortage is starting to bite as businesses are struggling to find workers they need to meet the growing demand at a time of medium to low unemployment, according to researchers.

Shortages are acute across a wide range of business sectors from IT and finance, to carpenters and masons. There is simply not enough people for all the roles that are out on the market.

Construction industry, our Industrial Zones need increasing numbers of workers to keep up with the demand. “Construction managers are constantly looking for skilled professionals. These workers, namely masons, tillers, painters, bar-benders, welders, plumbers, riggers etc are hard to come by in the industry.” Employers in the building trades are willing to pay higher starting wages to attract the right candidates.

Industrial Zones too are finding it increasingly difficult to find machinist workers they need.

Reasons for the skills shortage 

At the end of the thirty odd year war there was a record boom in infrastructure development resulting in the construction industry growing by 39.3 percent in 2012 against 12 percent in 2009. Since then our main infrastructure work was farmed out to Contractor employees from abroad. We now see pockets of foreign labour, Chinese and possibly Indian construction workers on these sites.

Whilst this was happening our young men and women were either increasingly reluctant to be exposed to the health hazards of construction employment, or they were willing to take manual jobs abroad instead.

Having been weaned in a culture over decades of secure “9-5” government clerical employment, they were unwilling to move on to do the so called, “dirty jobs” and the tough conditions accompanying them.

One of the reasons which many young engineers coming out of our universities claimed is the poor industry image and the perceived poor safety conditions of work at building sites.

Even white collared staff, our trained nursing staff was creamed off with very lucrative inducements to seek employment in the West and in Australia. Besides, there is hardly a need to state the flight abroad of our trained doctors and engineers, who somehow found a way to migrate abroad, while our country was torn between the problems of private medical education and be trained medically at state expense in our Universities.

Talent mismatch

Although Universities and Technical Schools are not churning out the numbers of skilled workers in the new areas of employment, the scarcity of skilled labour is driving up costs, building costs, training and other costs. In fact, they are prolonging project schedules. Our Universities have been in the habit of claiming that they are not in the business of selling job credentials, but strangely that is what the majority of students think they are buying when they enter University or Training College.

More money needs to be ploughed in for Research and Development (R&D) such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics, which we all known is the future.

Everywhere technology is rapidly, perhaps favourably tapping the work life-balance. whether it is enabling flexible work or “ even remote working.”

The role of Government in the solution 

The Government unveiled its Budget 2018 yesterday (9/11/17) and it is noticeable that recognition has been given to skills development. “Colombo, Moratuwa and SLIFT Universities will conduct training courses in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Data Science, Machine Learning and Python Development in collaboration with industry.”

Whether it is called a “Blue-Green or a Designer Budget” is not important, but we are informed that for the first time it has laid emphasis on resolving the skills shortage, perhaps by hoping to change the Education Ordinance 1939, by introduction of flexible working hours, by allocating a larger amount for education and many other reviews.

It is certainly commendable for Minister Mangala Samaraweera to have found a way to embrace a culture of collaboration with business and industry to help him find a solution to innovate and scale up.

We also note that Past President Mahinda Rajapaksa who arrived on a bicycle, was seen seated in Parliament, a rare occasion, came up with an excellent comment according to reports, that many items of last year’s budget had yet to be implemented and feared the same this year too.

Business education needs to encourage broader and more connected thinking if we are to cultivate and develop Sri Lanka’s innovative small businesses (SME’s).Sri Lanka has an enviable reputation for innovation in style and fashion, besides building the tallest Christmas tree in the world.

If Britain can import Indian IT Consultants on a specific one year contract basis to shore up and help remain in the forefront of innovation, perhaps, Sri Lanka should be able to invite the world’s best innovators to help us to boost small business.

There must be plans to improve productivity, besides skills shortage 

We need to ask our young people two questions:

“Besides, money:” What do you hope to gain from work? Is it security, challenge, advancement? Where do you think is the demand for your skills and abilities.”

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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