A significant feat
Sri Lanka has now
recorded one of the lowest levels of unemployment in its
post-independence history. The country’s unemployment ratio
which stood at 8.3 percent in 2008 had come down to 5.2 percent.
This is a very significant achievement, given that even some
of the richest countries (and multinational companies) have been
forced to retrench workers as a result of the current global
And with the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, unemployment
is poised to decrease. Economists are already talking about
adding three percentage points to the country’s growth rate and
an acceleration of industrial and agricultural activity.
Mired in conflict, the North and the East have not made a
significant contribution to the national economy during the last
three decades. However, this is likely to change in the near
future as Northern and Eastern youth join the economic
mainstream. There will be a huge demand for jobs for these
youth. This could be fulfilled initially by the massive
development effort already being planned for the North and later
through new investments.
Sri Lanka now expects foreign direct investment to more than
quadruple to $4 billion by 2012, according to the Board of
Investment Chief Dhammika Perera. Among those already looking
for investment opportunities are apparel manufacturers and hotel
Well known international investor Jim Rogers recently spurred
renewed interest in Sri Lanka, saying he sees ‘wonderful
opportunities’ in Sri Lanka and that he would like to go to Sri
Lanka to see ‘great opportunities’ because of dramatic changes
in the country. This kind of endorsement will go a long way in
boosting investor confidence in our country and the economy.
Development always generates employment. As the President
told the victory rally at Parliament Grounds last month, the
present Government has never made the war an excuse to curtail
development. Now that terrorism has been defeated, development
will continue with greater vigour all over the country.
Five harbours are coming up simultaneously while
mega-electricity projects too have been initiated.
Infrastructure is being developed fast with rural villages given
priority in achieving equity in development.
The private sector should now play a bigger role in
They should take their investments to the Northern and
Eastern provinces as well. It is also important to encourage
self-employment and small and medium scale enterprises
countrywide. This is becoming one of the main avenues for
generating employment without burdening the Government.
It is also creditable that this Government expanded the
public service, in sharp contrast to previous Governments which
pruned it down. They wanted to maintain the number of State
sector employees around 600,000 due to various conditions
imposed by lending agencies.
The present Government has expanded it beyond 1.2 million
employees and raised their salaries substantially. The number of
teachers alone has increased to 214,000 with 27,000 new
appointees after November 2005.
This brings us to the whole question of education and
employment. There is a glaring mismatch between the education
system and the requirements of the job market.
The traditional theory-oriented subjects taught to students
in both schools and universities cannot equip them to meet the
tough demands of the employers.
Programs like the Tharuna Aruna, which conditions university
graduates for the corporate sector, has seen some success, but
what is required is a fundamental change in the education system
towards job orientation.
More vocational training subjects should be introduced to the
school curricula and the technical colleges strengthened. We
hope the current education reforms would address these concerns.
There should also be a healthy dialogue between the universities
and the private sector on the requirements of the employment
The authorities should also concentrate on sending more
Lankans abroad for employment. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign
Employment must look for new markets for our migrant workers,
especially males. Sending more skilled workers will help earn
more foreign exchange for the country’s coffers.
Existing agreements with foreign principals must be
strengthened, with more safeguards for our migrant workers.
However, we must not allow an exodus of professionals from the
country at a moment when the Government is on the verge of
commencing a massive development program.
There is no doubt that this development drive would generate
a vast number of employment opportunities across the country, in
a variety of sectors including the services sector, which is
fast becoming a high growth area.
The dawn of peace will lead to more opportunities for
creating more business ventures and hence, employment. The
unemployment rate will decrease further, giving the economy a