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Beating idleness

With a youth unemployment rate of more than 19 per cent, Sri Lanka is just one of many countries facing an uphill struggle to create jobs for youth. ILO News reports on a project that is part of the Organization’s worldwide efforts to avert a lost generation of unemployed youth.

Feature | 09 August 2012
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (ILO News) – Shashikala, a young woman living in one of the poorer areas of Sri Lanka, breathes a sigh of contentment as she talks about her job.

Together with her brother and sister, they have set up a garment manufacturing outlet, an 8 by 10 feet room with two sewing machines, where they turn out 100 pieces of garments for children per day.

“I can now earn enough for my family, whereas before I stayed home with no income, wasting my time,” says Shashikala, who did not give her last name.

Shashikala is one of the beneficiaries of the ILO Youth Employment Project, which supports unemployed youth via vocational, entrepreneurship and on-the-job training to improve their skills and their chances in the labour market.

We were able to help them build themselves a future where they would be financially and socially stable."
The project is aimed at helping youth living in the country’s tea and rubber growing regions. Young people in this area face limited educational opportunities, language barriers and a lack of quality jobs.

Although unemployment numbers are decreasing, Sri Lanka still records over 19 per cent of unemployed youth – more than four times the country’s overall unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent.

Helping those with and without work

Ramya Samanshriya, Youth Mobilizer at Houpe Estate, a tea plantation, explains how the project works. While it has helped some youth such as Shashikala start their own businesses, others have found employment in places like garment factories and bakeries.

“When we first reached out to the young people of the estate, they were all at home doing absolutely nothing,” she says. “We were able to help them build themselves a future where they would be financially and socially stable.”

With a smile that portrays a great sense of accomplishment, she mentions that the trainees in tea-plucking and rubber-tapping were all awarded with a NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) certificate.

Not too far from the Houpe estate is the Youth Information Center, which has a collection of educational books that are freely available and a fully-equipped computer that gives youth the chance to spend their free time in a productive manner. Thus the centre has also proven to be useful for those who are not yet working.

Ensuring sustainability

Sustainability of jobs is one of the key concerns of the project, as most estates in the region have limited funds to continue with their efforts to help unemployed youth. Manoj Udugampola, manager of the Pussella Rubber Estate, explains how they managed to get around this challenge.

“One of the advantages of the ILO project was that we were able to speak to youth face-to-face and explain the advantages of the programme, whereas earlier we would only be able to pass the message via their parents. This used to make it very difficult for us to convince them.”

According to the estate manager, this trend has now been reversed and young people willingly approach them to join the training programmes.

Funded by Japan, the project in Sri Lanka is part of the Organization’s worldwide efforts to avert a lost generation of unemployed youth. Recent innovative employment programmes in countries like India, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali have proven their effectiveness in providing employment and social protection to youth living in poverty while improving productivity in disadvantaged economies.