The panel also raised concerns on decreasing female participation in the labour market and suggested the institution should provide affordable childcare and tackle sexual harassment at work place in order to encourage more women to join the workforce.
Sri Lanka’s female labour force participation (LFP) rates declined from 41 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2016. This trend stands in contrast to the country’s achievements in human development outcomes that favor women, such as high levels of female education and low total fertility rates, as well as its status as a middle-income country.
The panel discussion coincided with the launch of a new World Bank report in Colombo. The panelists took part included Professor Dayantha Wijesekera, Chairman Designate, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja, Chair of the Global Economy Programme, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Dr. Nisha Arunatilake, Director of Research, Institute of Policy Studies, Ayomi Fernando, Industrial Relations Advisor/Training Coordinator at Employers Federation of Ceylon, and Ralph van Doorn, Senior Country Economist for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The report ‘Sri Lanka’s new Development Update’ noted, the government’s key policy document, Vision 2025, aspires to transform Sri Lanka into the hub of the Indian Ocean, with a knowledge-based, highly competitive, social market economy focused on inclusion. Among the intermediate targets set for the next three years is the goal to create 1 million new jobs. This is an ambitious target, in light of the growth rates required to facilitate this level of job creation.
During the discussion panellists agreed that structural reforms to increase competitiveness are essential to create better jobs.
Dr. Wignaraja highlighted three priorities to create more jobs - raise female participation, improve English language skills and implement public sector reforms while Dr. Arunatilake suggested hiring foreign talent, preventing brain-drain and to look at ways to encourage more women to enter the labour market. Dr. Arunatilake added Sri Lanka needs more and better English teachers to improve the employment prospects of young people; one option could be a cooperation agreement with the Philippines, which has a surplus of such teachers. Professor Wijesekera was of the view that Sri Lankans should get out of the mentality of ‘O/L, A/L and University syndrome’ and enter the job market at various levels with skill improvement programs and facilities should be developed to encourage young people to build their careers and professions through tertiary education.
The report also highlighted the job market issues in the Northern and Eastern Provinces specifically where employment rates are lower. “There do not appear to be quick fixes; but to the extent that skills and access to finance are key constraints to both households and firms, the same agenda as in the rest of the island applies: investment in human and physical capital will increase productivity and better connect workers to more productive jobs,” it said.