In the Northern Province the unemployment is most among youth and women and it is particularly high among women with high educational levels; while most of the universities continue to produce unemployable graduates. In the recent past, several thousand unemployed graduates protested in the capital and many of them in the province are continuing with their protest sittings in front of the districts administration centers in the province. Despite continued rural to urban migration a process that was accelerated with the war; there is still a large proportion of the northern population living in rural areas without proper employment and are classified as poor.
In Sri Lanka, there is significant variation in the unemployment rate across provinces, different sectors as well as age groups; with the agriculture sector the worst hit due to the drought. In the Northern Province with limited state employment opportunities and few alternatives, the impact of graduate unemployment is significant and more pronounced compared with other areas of Sri Lanka. The share of employment for the Northern Province, in all sectors excluding the services sector is much lower than the all-island figures, given the recent history of conflict. In the service sector the province has higher share than the all-island figure, because the economies of the North appear to be mainly service-driven; this sector needs to be given due attention in respect of future development strategies for the region. The unemployment problem in the Northern Province is most pronounced among the 25-34 age group; incidentally most of the protesting unemployed graduates are in this group, that includes the differently able and rehabilitated people both directly impacted by the war; ignored for different reasons as unemployable by the formal sector employers.
In terms of future targeted assistance, therefore, these age groups should be given high priority. Despite several post war years of infrastructure development in the province the problem of unemployment remains; with young females experiencing much higher levels of unemployment than young males in the province. Since the prospects of findings jobs in the open market are limited for the educated youth, creative approaches have to be identified by Northern Provincial Council (NPC) in resolving this major constraint. At present in the province there are limited attempts by some non-governmental organizations and diaspora members living overseas on ad-hoc basis to generate income through productive self-employment, which are by large not sustainable and has not resolved the unemployment problem. Mainly because these activities are not properly co-ordinated by the concerned authorities including NPC, resulting in both upfront and downstream activities such as lack of inputs, difficulties in marketing and improper distribution facilities.
Several thousand unemployed northern graduates from Sri Lanka’s universities, most of whom had followed courses in humanities and social sciences like their fellow graduates from other provinces are unable to find employment due to their lack of English language knowledge; a continuing problem that the authorities in the country haven’t been able to find enduring solutions for these graduates. The situation they face is more than those graduates who followed engineering, medicine or science subjects. The merits of an education in humanities and social sciences are recognized worldwide and ideally such learning should cultivate an inquisitive mind, problem solving skills, critical thinking abilities, comparative application of ideas from the past to the present. Unfortunately, this recognition is not there among the employers in both the public and private sectors; the problem is made worse by the universities continuing to produce year after year graduates without these abilities. An independently thinking person who can see the difference between human injustices, their sources, and corrective action needed to rectify these is invaluable for a country inflicted with preferential treatment, discrimination, injustices and power politics as well as patronage based decision-making.
Much has been talked about the mismatch between the qualifications acquired by these graduates, the skills they possess and lack of English language knowledge, and the needs of the public and private sector. The solutions for this thorny issue of unemployed graduates and the graduates coming out from the universities, a crash course can be introduced to inculcate the skills required by the employers, such as English language skills, IT skills, and Cross-cultural Communication skills can be provided by the Provincial Council arranging it with the University of Jaffna (UOJ). A voluntary scheme of work in various public and private institutions shall be arranged lasting from six months to a year can be introduced for the unemployed graduates. A living allowance should be organized for these people to cover their food, transport and accommodation costs; especially if they have to move out of the province for the courses. However, graduates should be encouraged to do part time work elsewhere and find at least half of their living costs. Companies and other institutions should be encouraged to work closely with UOJ to organize such voluntary work programs and send their representatives annually to select the candidates for such work.
Incentives for encouraging educated youth in all parts of the province to develop entrepreneurial skills and undertake sustainable, market-driven income-generating activities need to be identified, given the chronically high unemployment rates among this group. The high unemployment rate among women in general most of them are leading single headed families need to be viewed in this context, i.e. income-generation through productive self-employment. The Provincial Council should provide incentives for encouraging educated youth to develop entrepreneurial skills and undertake sustainable, market-driven income-generating activities. This would require a holistic approach involving such components as credit or group credit for micro, small and medium enterprises; providing training for skills development, business management, marketing strategies, technology transfer and in competitive marketing.
Then for the rest of the unemployed persons in the province particularly those from marginal social and economic backgrounds, that includes the differently able and rehabilitated people both directly impacted by the war; is a highly volatile age group and the problem needs to be resolved through special schemes, such as vocational training linked to productive self-employment, targeted at this group. NPC and the limited private sector in the province need to work together in designing and implementing such schemes in order to ensure that they lead to the creation of sustainable and broad-based self-employment opportunities within the framework of provincial specialization in the production of goods and services. There is plenty of opportunity in the agricultural sector in the province to have large production factories to produce value added products for export; the long-term objective of this exercise should be to improve productivity through technological and institutional changes and create much needed employment opportunities.
The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) could play a major role with a proper rural development plan to create many employment opportunities in the informal sector for the thousands of unemployed persons including the unemployed graduates, the differently able and rehabilitated people in the province; whose rate of growth could overnight be brought to a level higher than that of the formal sector.