Sri Lanka, compared to other countries in the South Asian region has a very high literacy rate as education is free and mandatory among all children. Even in some villages, where poverty persists, local state officials on ground ensure that children receive an education and are sent to school.
Sri Lanka has adult literacy rate of 93.2% (2017), which is above average by world and regional standards. Even with such a high literacy rate, Sri Lanka, is facing a staggering problem, that is the high levels of unemployment among youth. Today, Sri Lanka’s youth population number is estimated as 4.4 million out of the country’s 21.6 million population which is about 20% of the total population but youth unemployment is at 20.8% which is a high youth unemployment ratio in a developing country.
High unemployment in Sri Lanka has been attributed to unrealistic expectations, to queuing for public sector jobs, and to stringent job security regulations. For years, successive governments have been looking to solve this issue, but the stark reality is that Sri Lanka faces a shortage of skilled labor and jobs are scarce. Especially now, in the new COVID-19 world, the levels of unemployment will only widen, leading to several issues among our most vital social segment.
Following my appointment as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs in August, I have been holding extensive discussions with the youth, from across the country. And the leading problem discussed in each district, is the high levels of unemployment, which results in many social and personal issues facing the youth. As a result, it was discussed that many of our youth then prefer to go overseas, in search of jobs, driving away Sri Lanka’s crucial workforce.
In order to provide some solution to this staggering problem, I held discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa recently and proposed to establish atleast one industry in each AG division across the country so that, youth in that particular division will be provided jobs and will also be trained with the necessary skills. Presently industries are set up only in particular industrial zones, which leads to an influx of youth having to leave their homes and travel into the cities in search of employment. The practicality of this is now thin, with the world having to maintain strict health guidelines and social distance and working in environments with a minimum workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If corporate giants, including the leading industrialists can be encouraged to open up industries in different divisions, they can operate with the work force of that particular area, where they can be trained in a particular skill and this will also help Sri Lanka to manufacture more of its own products, which is the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. This will enable to create more jobs among the men and women, and strengthen the GDP of that particular district. Further, the establishment of industries will also create many indirect jobs as well which will help alleviate poverty in the poorest of the poor districts.
Initially, I proposed that we identify the districts where the GDP is low and the rate of unemployment is high. Both the President and Prime Minister, reacted favorably and agreed to hold further discussions on the matter. The matter was also discussed with Minister of Industries, Wimal Weerawansa and Minister of tourism Prasanna Ranatunga and D.V. Chanaka who is the state minister of the development of export zones.
The government will look at discussing, to offer tax concessions to industries who look to get involved in this project and who agree to establish their factories in the AG divisions. Further discussions will also be held with the BOI and all stakeholders in the coming days. I have requested the President and Prime Minister and the concerned ministers to expedite discussions on this matter.
In my several articles before, I have mentioned the importance of the youth sector of any country. They are the backbone of the economy. I strongly believe the success of any government starts by addressing the issues of the youth and the education of the youth. While skilled labor is short in this country, as a responsible government we must now look at immediately providing a solution to this so that Sri Lanka can retain its workforce and strengthen its local markets as well. I will ensure that under my tenure as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, a suitable solution is found to end the unemployment issue facing this country, and will work with all the ministries concerned.
Afterall, youth will decide what the future will look like for this nation and with right attitude, guidance and resources I am certain it can only be positive and bright.