Since a large number of students are graduating every year from our 15 state universities and from many other degree awarding institutes operating in Sri Lanka, employability of graduates has become a critical issue. In the year 2015 alone the state university system produced nearly 35,000 graduates (internal degrees-17,000, external degrees-13,000 and Open University degrees-5000 approximately), a large majority of them (67%) are females. During the same year universities granted 7500 postgraduate degrees. Added to this, a fair number of graduates are returning every year to this country after obtaining foreign degrees. Thus, all these graduates are facing a fierce competition to find a suitable employment in a stagnant economy with limited employment opportunities in the state as well as in the private sector. Because of this situation many graduates tend to accept part-time insecure jobs or jobs for which they are over qualified, if they are fortunate enough to find one. In this situation, sound employability skills coupled with experience and exposure to working environments will play a prominent role in finding a suitable employment.
In addition to addressing this issue, it is also vital that the unemployment currently prevailing among our graduates should be given a serious attention and appropriate remedial measures implemented as an urgent priority without allowing the conditions to deteriorate any further. It is necessary that short-term and long-term measures should be taken to tackle both these issues which are interconnected.
Employability of Graduates
Employability in the broadest sense covers the preparation of a person to apply for a suitable position, facing a successful interview and remain in the job with emphasis on professional advancement. Basically, he or she will be empowered with confidence to become a successful person as a life-long learner and a great achiever. He should be able to apply his knowledge, skills and competencies acquired during his training to the relevant employment situation. While in employment they should have willingness to change occupations to follow trends within professions. In general, most employers look for flexible staff who will be able to adapt to dynamic market conditions.
Most local graduates assume that it is the duty of the government to provide employment to graduates, after receiving free education from primary up to university education. This is not the reality, and it does not happen anywhere in the world. However, it is the function of state to facilitate creation of more employment opportunities in the non-state sector, industries and other institutions rather than overstaffing already inefficient and unproductive state institutions.
Undoubtedly, the mismatch between undergraduate training and employment opportunities is widely considered as the prime reason for unemployment among graduates. Traditionally, the universities have been training graduates mainly for public sector employment. This situation has changed over the years with the economic liberalization, rapid expansion of the private sector in almost all the fields including health and education and with increasing effects of globalization. This has resulted in the shrinkage of state-sector employment and increase in employment opportunities in the non-state sector. Thus, there is a great need to re-structure and re-orient our tertiary education system to be consistent with the market driven economy.
Most of our graduates have a sound knowledge of their academic disciplines. Yet, they mostly lack general knowledge, computer literacy, communication and management skills and team work experience etc. required of an ideal university graduate. These skills and experience are required for them to fit into relevant employment situations.
With so many graduates available in the labour market, most employers complain that they have difficulties in finding candidates with the required knowledge, skills and attitudes. It has been reported that most employers prefer foreign graduates over graduates from local universities except in professional disciplines. Foreign graduates have an advantage over local graduates in employment mainly because most of the foreign graduates have acquired the desirable employment skills in their core curriculum and in their extracurricular activities. It is therefore essential that our local graduates also should acquire these skills to be competitive in the current labour market. Graduates in specialized scientific disciplines and in professional fields such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, engineering, architecture etc. also need these skills because they are required in the professional dealings with the public whether in government service or self-employment. In addition, these skills will be extremely useful when they seek foreign employment.