High quality ICT graduates severely short in Sri Lanka, soft-skills gap: survey

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s growing information communication technology is generating a demand for higher skilled workers at degree level with soft-skills, which may leave workers with lower level qualifications from vocational schools without jobs, a survey has found.

A 2018 survey by Sri Lanka’s ICT Agency has found that pure ICT companies are now the dominant employer in the sector where the basic entry requirement had grown to degree level in a change from a survey in 2013.

Based on projected demand for 2019, there was a 12,000 person shortfall or ICT graduates compared to less than 500 in the last survey in 2013, with the sector growing fast due to globalization.

"The main conclusion of the survey is that the ICT workforce in Sri Lanka is undergoing deep structural changes at a time when the global ICT sector experiences a period of transition," the National IT-BPM Workforce Survey 2019 noted.

"The influence of the global and domestic transformations is visibly manifested in drastic changes taking place in composition of the ICT workforce in the country.

"The relative shares of major employer categories in the ICT workforce has changed significantly in favour of ICT companies that came to occupy nearly a two thirds of the total workforce."

Quality vs Quantity

The survey found a demand of 21,216 graduates by the ICT sector for 2019, while the supply was 9,076. The gap was higher than in 2013 with the industry rapidly growing and pure ICT companies making up the biggest employer.

"The current situation implies that the demand-supply gap for ICT workforce in the country is widening rather than closing," the ICT agency survey said.

"Considering the fact that the total supply also includes postgraduate trainees, many of whom may already be counted as a part of the existing workforce, this margin tends to increase further."

The survey said the entry level of workers for pure ICT companies was now a bachelors degree or equivalent and gap between demand and supply also relates to quality.

"Despite a large output of trainees from variety of courses offered by training organizations, the quality of a significant share of them remains below the level of expectations of employers," the survey said.

"Their main concern was that the gap should not be understood in terms of demand for numbers alone but in terms of demand for quality as well.

"As a result, many employers look for graduates which could have augmented the figures indicating demand for graduates."

"This is confirmed by the fact that the entry level qualifications for nearly all job categories have now been raised to the level of Bachelor’s degree by many employers.

"As a result, demand expectations for graduates could be somewhat bloated up by employers perceptions about the poor quality, especially of non-graduate trainees."

However, a part of the non-graduate trainee pool have qualifications from well-recognized bodies such as the Britsh Computer Society (BCS) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS) which provide skills similar to a degree.

Red Light for TVET L5 and L6

While universities should revise their curricula in consultation with a bigger task lay ahead for tertiary and vocational education institutes in both state and private sector offering courses below degree level.

"In this connection, raising the skills of trainees at NVQ qualification levels of L5 and L6 (i.e. Diplomas and Higher Diplomas) and upgrading them into the level of L7 which is equivalent to graduate level should be given priority," the survey said.

"These changes should be undertaken in close consultation with prospective employers to make necessary improvements in core, soft and technical skills offered by TVET institute so that the employability of Diploma and Higher Diploma level trainees could be increased."

Soft-Skills

Employers were also looking for soft-skills. It was particularly so for TVET levels trainees in both state and private sector.

"Increasing the quality of these trainees by giving special a􀆩en􀆟on to enhance their soft skills could be expected to reduce the demand-supply gap further," the survey noted.

ICTA Chairman Rohan Samarajiva said it was not a gap in English that was the main problem as software engineering itself was not depended on English, which could be acquired.

"Don’t get too hung up on English. A lot of people in the ICT sector are very fluent in hardware, software and computer languages. These people are naturally intelligent and English will come," he said.

The survey showed that English proficiency per se was a factor especially for non-ICT companies and BPM firms.

But communications skills in general, team work, creative thinking skills, and professional ethics was in high demand. (Colombo/Aug08/2019)