SRI LANKA:

A Creative Project Continues to Assist Unemployed Youth

June 8, 2009

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In an outstanding example of program sustainability, Creative’s Accelerated Skills Acquisition Program curriculum has been licensed to a Sri Lankan training company that will continue to provide the program’s workforce readiness skills training for thousands of unemployed youth in Sri Lanka.

The arrangement represents a major milestone in a new era of development in which partnerships help accomplish shared objectives. The licensing of the ASAP curriculum to Gateway College is also the first such public- private partnership in Sri Lanka for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which funded the initiative and for Creative Associates International, Inc., the project implementer.

“Most often projects start and stop, a lot of good work is done, but dies when the project closes,” said ASAP Chief of Party, Shevanthi Jayasuriya. “From day one, I said this project has to continue beyond its mandate and so we found a way that USAID would not have to support it. We decided to find a private-sector licensee to hand over the program and carry on ASAP.”

Gateway won the ASAP license through a competitive process that included a pool of 16 private-sector applicants, which underscores the need to engage the private sector early on for sustainability opportunities. ASAP has strengthened the capacity of 22 private training centers throughout Sri Lanka to deliver quality training, job counseling, placement assistance and school-to-work services that improve employment possibilities for youth ages 15 to 25.

“ASAP has really filled the void in the country in terms of providing soft skills – teaching youth how to present themselves, behavior, attitude and so on,” said Gateway CEO Dr. Harsha Alles. “Gateway has a strong background in providing IT and English language training, but the soft skills component was lacking. When this opportunity [the ASAP license] came up, we [Gateway] were keen to take it on. We feel that through ASAP we have become more of a complete training organization.” The interest in ASAP is manifold for Sri Lankan stakeholders, especially the private sector, which is preoccupied with finding skilled workers to enable them to compete in the global economy.

Another boost to ASAP’s sustainability has been the enthusiastic endorsement of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce which preceded partnerships between ASAP and four of the island’s major corporations – Cargills, John Keels Hotels/Supermarkets, Unilever and Dimo (a Mercedes Benz subsidiary). The project has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education for an Asian Development Bank funded activity to provide 5,000 youth with ASAP training for this year and will train others in subsequent years.

ASAP’s curricula are customized to the needs of Sri Lankan youth whose lack of skills deter their entry into the labor market. About 86 percent of Sri Lankan youth who have earned their O and A Levels fail to gain admission to university and about one third of them remain unemployed, particularly women whose rate of unemployment is 40 percent compared to 27 percent for men. ASAP is the only program specifically oriented toward building the employability skills of these O and A Level school leavers.

“The difference between ASAP (candidates) and someone you hire off the street is that ASAP candidates are able to work as a team, show commitment. They have a plan, a goal, a vision,” said Susil de Alwis, general manager of The Privilege Hotel, who says that despite a six percent unemployment rate, he has difficulty finding qualified personnel.

But thanks to ASAP, the pool of qualified applicants has improved.

“One of the boys I hired came from an extremely poor village,” Alwis said. “Having little exposure to the job market, he had little confidence in his abilities. But having gone through ASAP, he now has the potential to be a general manager. I think ASAP motivates people to go to greater heights.”

To date, more than 7,000 Sri Lankan youth have completed the Creative ASAP course, and of these approximately 2,000 have obtained employment or are in apprenticeships. ASAP course work focuses on job search strategies and building employability through Life Skills, English language instruction and computer literacy, enabling students to seek multiple job opportunities, not just those in the service sector which accounts for only 51 percent of the country’s employment opportunities.

Creative’s ASAP curriculum provides a 5-day, 10-day and 20-day course. While the shortest course consists mainly of lessons on how to develop a résumé and conduct oneself in a job interview, the 10-day course provides English speaking skills and an IT course. The longest course includes a segment in building entrepreneurial skills.

“USAID’s commitment to the development of Sri Lanka’s workforce grew out of our belief that the private sector is the engine of economic growth and employment,” said Rebecca Cohn, USAID Mission Director in Sri Lanka. “We designed ASAP to be a bold new program to address the skills gap…ASAP is designed based on what the private sector told us they needed in employees – soft skills, good attitudes, proper work ethic, as well as English language and IT skills.”

The Creative ASAP curriculum is expected to continue to benefit the youth of the Sri Lankan island. According to Dr. Alles, “the approach we are taking is to form an entity which will be almost independent of Gateway, we want to link with corporations, schools, universities, NGOs. We are even expanding ASAP with new programs to include training for those who just joined the job market — the new organization will be called Skills for Life.”

—Alexandra Pratt

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