Workforce Skills Program Boosts Private-Sector Employment for Rural Youth

January 28, 2009


Over the past 18 months, 6,621 youth, many from rural areas, have undergone a unique workforce skills development training through the Accelerated Skills Acquisition Program (ASAP), made possible with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A 28-month initiative, ASAP is designed to strengthen the workforce skills and marketability of unemployed Sri Lankan youth, while improving the quality of training they receive at vocational training centers.  ASAP is implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc.

“The difference between ASAP 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 he has a difficult time finding qualified personnel, despite an unemployment rate of six percent. 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.”

Western Sri Lanka provides 51 percent of the country’s GDP, while the rest of the country’s eight and mostly rural provinces make up the other 49 percent. This imbalance comes from inadequate education opportunities for rural youth, which impacts economic opportunities for that region.

Many youth also lack a fundamental understanding of the job market. “They [rural youth] thought that private organizations were for posh people only, and people from Colombo,” said Neil Bogahalande, General Manager, Group Human Resources of the Browns Group describing his experience working with ASAP beneficiaries.

“We told them, gone are the days when an employer paid you a favor by giving you employment,” Bogahalande said. “The employer is not doing you a favor by hiring you, the job is a mutual benefit to both of you and there is no need to feel inferior or bad about asking for employment. You are giving your services.”

ASAP’s training is helping to change attitudes. ASAP’s custom-made curriculum can be applied for a five-day, ten-day or twenty-day period of training.  The training benefits disenfranchised youth seeking economic opportunity and  trainers and employers who are also trained by ASAP at the project’s collaborating vocational centers or businesses.

“As a trainer, I have found ASAP to be very different and impactful from other more traditional trainings,” said Ms. R. Subajini, the Career Guidance Officer at the Batticaloa Technical College.  “ASAP is very specific, in that it focuses on the skills required in the job market, skills lacking in our country.

According to management at the Institute for Data Management, an ASAP training partner which specializes in computer education, the program provided a wide range of opportunities to reinforce for  students the importance of education, teaching them effective communications skills as well as confidence building exercises.

To those who have undergone training,  ASAP has proven to be a very motivating factor and a way forward amid Sri Lanka’s stagnating economy.

“I want to extend my gratitude to USAID/ASAP for giving me this opportunity I was incapable of expressing myself in public. I was very shy but today I’m here addressing you. It is an honor addressing you all with such confidence. I overcame my lack of self-confidence through ASAP,” said Harshini Dhramasinghe, Trainer at the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority in Anuradhapura.  “I remember the day when I joined ASAP. When asked to speak out, I could not express myself. I could not set goals and didn’t know how to face an interview. ASAP built my self-confidence, now I’m ready to face the global market place.“

Alexandra Pratt with assistance from the ASAP team in Sri Lanka.

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