COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s education system must be overhauled with more focus on cognitive skills like problem solving and communication if it is to retain economic competiveness, the International Labour Organisation has said.
Lack of skills is depressing productivity and competitiveness in Sri Lanka, the ILO declared in a new study of the skills gap in four key sectors that have been identified by employers and policy-makers as potential growth sectors.
These are Information and Communications Technology, the tourism and hospitality industry, construction and light engineering.
"If Sri Lanka’s economy is to continue to expand into higher value added sectors and reduce poverty, it needs to become efficiency driven," it said.
But it noted that Sri Lankan firms cite the quality and supply of skilled technicians as the third most important barrier to growth.
The ILO said Sri Lanka needs to invest in building job-specific technical and vocational skills to increase competitiveness.
"The availability of specially trained machine operators, technicians, craftspeople, sales personnel, professionals and managers, will determine the rate at which Sri Lanka’s economy transitions to an efficiency-driven economy," it said.
The school education system is also failing to impart several urgently needed technical skills such as the ability to write and communicate clearly in even the mother tongue, let alone in English.
"Therefore, as a first step the general education system needs to be overhauled in such a way that it shifts out of the business of imparting facts and moves into building the skills necessary to process and analyse facts, make connections and see the big picture, and then communicate the analysis clearly and succinctly through presentations and report writing."
Labour shortages in a number of sectors that require specific skills such as IT and English language remain a major constraint to economic expansion.
"The implications for economic growth are serious," the ILO report declared. "With the emergence of global production systems, participation in value-chain trade is critical for small open economies such as Sri Lanka to benefit from trade liberalisation."
The increased global flow of information made possible by new information technologies creates demand for ‘higher level cognitive skills’.
Without an adequate supply of skilled labour Sri Lanka will lack the competitiveness necessary to benefit from international trade and progress to a higher stage of economic development, the ILO said.