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Speeches & Transcripts June 28, 2018

The Future of Jobs in Sri Lanka is in the Hands of the Youth

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Members of the Panel, esteemed guests and colleagues, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you this morning and thank you for joining us.  This is a busy period of the year and we are especially grateful that you could make it.   

The Sri Lanka Development Update is the World Bank’s bi-annual macroeconomic publication. It is meant to provide insights into the current state of the economy, based on which it gives a weighted prediction of the medium to long term performance.  It also focuses on opportunities and challenges that could manifest along the way.  We particularly put an emphasis on disseminating the update widely to inform a wide range of audiences, including policymakers, business leaders, financial market participants, citizens, and the community of analysts and professionals interested in Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

My colleague, Ralph will take you through a quick reflection on progress and challenges in Sri Lanka since we delivered the last update, about six months ago.  Second, he will focus on job creation, not an insignificant challenge for Sri Lanka, nor for many countries around the world. 

Our development updates are intended to put as much facts and figures as we can amass and analyze to give an impartial and balanced perspective.  You will notice that we don’t make a judgement on the information we put out.  This is deliberate because we especially want the information to incite a healthy and constructive debate amongst all interested parties. 

We selected the topic on jobs for a couple of key reasons.  Vision 2025, and the 2018 budget highlighted this topic as an important one; and in our own Systematic Country Diagnostic released two years ago, jobs were also identified as a binding constraint to Sri Lanka’s growth. 

Recently we have all been hearing about how jobs are fast changing in nature; how disruptive technology is even changing what the definition of a job is; and where it is performed.  When I was in school what mattered most was that one got good grades, applied to University, got a good degree and went into job that gave you tenure and a good pension.  It was not considered wise to move jobs quickly, rather, you worked yourself up the ladder and then you retired.  That was then.

Today, in many middle-income countries, young people focus on jobs that allow them to innovate; that permit risk taking and many would not even consider being a lifer in a single job.  Rather they see the opportunity to change jobs as a way to amass experiences that give them a variety of skills and opportunities.  Many dream not only of working at the established big-name companies but at being self-starters who develop companies that could be bought by the big names in the industry.

This buzz is yet to take root in Sri Lanka, despite its middle-income status.  What I hear most from the young here is that they are conditioned by parental ambitions to become doctors or lawyers and then get a job in the public sector. Don’t get me wrong.  We do need doctors and lawyers in the public sector but how many can be absorbed into the limited spaces that exist in government?  The outcome has been more job seekers than job creators.

My proposal is that there is a need to redefine our perception of a job.  It can no longer be split into a formal job vs an informal job; nor can the future youths afford to all aspire for a job that keeps them as a lifer.  We need youths to be at the forefront of creating jobs, some of which we don’t even know will exist in the near future.  We need them to push policy makers, the private sector and the public sector to lift hurdles in their way so they can get on with being tomorrow’s employers and innovators.

But this will also challenge many other aspects of today’s job world.  If the jobs of tomorrow will be vastly different; does the education system as it is today permit the innovation and skills development needed in the future?  How should the vocational centers be upgraded to skill youths on an on-going basis– it can no longer be a once in a lifetime training.  With jobs going into the virtual space, does it make sense to have people sitting in an office or will there be other models of working that will be focused on output and impact than presence in an office? 

You can’t upend a status quo on jobs and yet end up with the same model on how people work. There is little doubt that the trend to move in and out of jobs – formal to informal and back again has begun and it can only intensify.  Mobility will be the key word for our future youths.  And taking risks will be something that they will be more comfortable with than our generation has ever been.  And they will push the system to adjust accordingly to this new trend.

There will be pain as some endeavors fail; and our role will be to help them back up to continue to create the jobs that they want to work in, in future.  So, to all the youths who are thinking of pushing the boundaries and becoming the next entrepreneur – the world is ready for you. You must demand the attention of those who have the means to help you start-up - also don’t be afraid of failure.  And to those who have the space for the new generation of jobs don’t wait for the youths to be skilled – reach out and skill them and give them a platform to innovate.  There is little doubt that the benefits will accrue to all quarters.

These are my perspectives.  No doubt that there will be others. My role was to initiate a discussion and I hope that you will join in the debate once the presentations are done.  

I would like to end by acknowledging our distinguished panel who will certainly discuss more about the future of jobs.  Please engage with them and Ralph. 

Thank you for listening!