Boost skills or stay backward, awkward, and laggard!

By Ayanthi Philip

A long line of nervous candidates await to be called for the interview. There are three positions vacant – marketing, sales and general manager. All of those candidates, who eagerly anticipated a reply, never got the job!
“It’s tough!” says the CEO who was on the interview panel. “There aren’t people with management skills and competencies to take on these roles. Finding an exposed, highly competent, and skilled individual who can manage teams well is like finding a needle in a haystack!”
And such is the plight of several enterprises in Sri Lanka.
Out of the 300,000 that sit for the GCE Advanced Level (A/L) Examination, less than 10% get into Sri Lankan universities. In 2018, a total of 26,000 students graduated from Sri Lankan universities, of which 48% were from the Arts Faculty. It’s been a longstanding debate as to what needs to be done with these “arts graduates” who become idle and restless with the anticipation of being unemployed and unskilled.
The more professionally orientated faculties of medicine, engineering, law, architecture, valuation, and accounting focus their students towards properly defined objectives of employability and students can find jobs without having a longer wait.
How about the 274,000 who are out from school every year and not gotten into university? Where would they go? Is the Sri Lankan GCE A/L sufficient to be employed? Not so!
A major factor keeping countries from being able to fight poverty is the inaccessibility of higher education and training. If education is unaffordable, people cannot educate themselves further, they are unable to get better paying jobs, and so remain trapped in poverty. Sri Lanka is fortunate. As we all know and are proud of, there is free education up until university. However, do they have the skills to perform and be of value to companies?
Taking lessons from Singapore which transformed its economic state in three decades, I note that the Education Ministry not only pays attention to schooling and university education, but also to upskiling the workforce in every industry and at every scale – be it large, small, or medium.
There is now a boost to help upskill small and medium-sized industries by giving subsidies on training. SkillsFuture Festival Singapore was launched in June this year with the mandate of upgrading employees’ capabilities via training, recognising that a “skills gap” could become a bottleneck that limits economic growth.
Therefore, the Singaporean Government addresses the training cost and also becomes involved in selecting training courses for the employees of the companies. There is a criterion for those who will be deployed as trainers – the Advanced Certificate in Learning and Performance (ACLP) which is a Train the Trainer (TTT) programme designed to equip the trainer with SkillsFuture Singapore-recognised training and adult education (TAE) competencies to not only perform the role of a learning facilitator and assessor of SSG-funded certifiable courses, but also as a budding learning solutionist who is able to support the performance needs of enterprises as well as learners experiencing industry transformation.
SkillsFuture Singapore also works with intermediaries such as trade associations, banks, IT companies, and accounting firms to develop training programmes, especially for emerging small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Considering data from the Manpower Ministry of Singapore, 52% of the job openings for managers, executives, and technicians in 2018 did not consider academic qualifications as the main factor for recruitment.
The Singaporean Government funding has three avenues:
· Skills Development Fund which most businesses tap into for training needs. This fund provides employers financial assistance to encourage them to train and upgrade the skills of their workers
· Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund which is an incentive programme that allows companies to claim funds
· Workforce Skills Qualifications which covers skills training programmes that train and equip individuals with the know-how to perform specific jobs well. It also benchmarks best practices and strengthens employees’ competencies
With companies claiming as much as 60% return from the Government on training, they have managed to upskill the workforce, transforming their enterprises from small enterprises to medium and then large within a short space of time. It is no wonder the country has seen such a rapid rate in its development by giving great emphasis not only on primary, secondary, and tertiary education, but also on lifelong, professional learning.
Sri Lankans are wonderful learners – keen and dedicated, with quick grasps on new concepts. How do we make them skilled and workforce-ready to take on our enterprises and transform them? Every year, there are approximately 274,000 who require skills.
It’s time for the Government and the private sector to take a keener interest. Failing this, we would be playing the same sad harp in years, decades, and generations to come. The question is: Do the Sri Lankan people have skills to transform this economy? Or would Sri Lanka stay backward, awkward, and laggard?

The writer is an International Corporate Trainer, Coach and Consultant