With a dignified flavour!

Friday July 15 was World Youth Skills Day, which the United Nations observed with a special event on the theme of ‘Skills Development to Improve Youth Employment.’ Understanding what works to support young people in today’s and tomorrow’s labour market through training and skills development will be key to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and will be at the centre of this high-level event.

A key element

Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. In addition, women are more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.

That is why education and skills training are key determinants of success in the labour market. But unfortunately, existing systems are failing to address the learning needs of many young people and surveys of learning outcomes and skills show that a large number of youth have low levels of achievement in basic literacy and numeracy.

According to a recent International Labour Organization (ILO) publication, 73.4 million young people were estimated to be unemployed in 2015 and this figure is expected to increase in most regions by 2017. One reason for youth unemployment is structural unemployment, a mismatch between the skills that workers in the economy can offer and the skills demanded of workers by employers.

Much has been written on the importance of skills regarding the requirements of the current and future labour market. Trend reports, vocational guides the search for a job and/or the development of one’s professional career necessarily include improving skills and abilities as a key element in personal branding.

The human capital

Following the recognition in 2014 by the UN many international and regional organisations, will assist in raising awareness on promoting skills as a means to address the challenges of unemployment and under employment. There are more youth on the planet than ever before. These young people are poised with all of the potential and energy to be our next generation of leaders, workers and parents. Fostering the acquisition of skills by youth will enhance their ability to make informed choices with regard to life and work and empower them to gain access to changing labour markets and viable employment opportunities.

While many of today’s youth inhabit a world of unlimited opportunity and possibility, millions more are being left out. Globally, the youth unemployment rate is almost three times higher than the rate for adults. Basically speaking these youth are stuck – left at a crossroads with little opportunity to reach their full potential due to a lack of employment opportunities and a lack of education and basic skills. Unfortunately, with few choices, many youth are vulnerable to a life of poverty or violence.

There is also a need to internalise the realisation that vocational and technical training is as important as tertiary education. The dynamics of the global economy and the needs of companies, have led to increased demand for professionals with specific expertise and skills that are not necessarily available at traditional universities. Many industries and fields are looking for people with specific skills to solve problems in a practical, simple and pragmatic manner.

Everyone appears to be focusing on building on the assets we hold within our own small universe. These include property, machinery, markets and raw materials among other resources, which are all acquirable through artificial sources. Everyone is quick to concentrate on this capital. But if we aim to accomplish any real progress it is imperative that we focus our attention on the human capital, which is the most vital component for the success of any venture.

But we now have to find a flow of human capital into every one of our local development sectors over a given period of time. But because of various constricting factors, not the least among them the senseless civil war, the availability of this human capital had been eroding day by day. The focus must also be on training youth in basic hands-on skills which include masonry, carpentry, welding and plumbing among other such vital occupations.

Social welfare activities

Long before World Youth Skills Day was inaugurated there were eminent trailblazing legends in our own nation who left behind a legacy of addressing such burning issues. I am referring to people such as the late Lorna Wright, a free-lance woman journalist, broadcaster and social worker who assisted the marginalized to embark on small scale and viable economic ventures. She emphasized the need to identify and harness the innate talents and skills of the rural and suburban poor and the need to work within the cultural, economic and social constraints of their environment.

Lorna Wright deplored the fact that for thousands of youth the chances of participating in the development of the nation had been lost because of the lack of opportunities to further their educational skills and also because of the woeful system of our education. Wright was quick to highlight the heartbreak of these underprivileged youth who had received little or no formal education or opportunities that were essential to enter a dignified occupation and enjoy a reasonably satisfying livelihood.

She always demonstrated an enthusiastic interest in both women’s and youth affairs by providing them with guidance and opportunities to break out of their poverty-stricken world. She was resolute in offering them the necessary skills and determination to step into a brighter future. Wright came up with the innovative concept of the ‘Ath-Udauwwa’ programme with the focus on training youth in basic hands-on skills which included masonry, carpentry, welding and plumbing among other such occupations. As an incentive to instil in them the dignity of honest labour they were provided with certificates and uniforms as a mark of prestige (‘thathweya’).

Wright possessed Australian citizenship, but was granted a permanent resident visa for Sri Lanka by the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. And so she returned to become the recipient of several international awards including the SAARC Awards for Women of Excellence and the Zonta Award. In 2004 she was conferred the Order of Australia, the country’s highest honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. The award was bestowed on her in recognition of her service to international relations through social welfare activities in Sri Lanka particularly through the Memory of Mother Foundation (MOM). She deservingly received international awards in recognition of her noble activities, but lamentably in the land of her birth Lorna Wright remains without any official state acknowledgement. Yet at her funeral one witnessed long lines of people waiting to express their condolences and among them the tear-streaked faces of hundreds of mourners.

Wright was aware that there was for her a special place in the hearts of the thousands of people whose lives she had touched in a meaningful way by her gracious patronage. They paid the founder of MOM the greatest tribute by conferring her with the matchless and most reverential title of them all. They called her Amma. 


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