With Sri Lanka’s unemployment level stealthily creeping up to undesirable levels, the Jobs Net programme was launched in 2002 with the aim to abate it. It was the brain child of the then Labour and Employment Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe under the Ranil Wickremasinghe UNP government. The objective of this device was to be an electronic resource base for employers to list any job vacancies they have, which is matched by any unemployed individuals who have registered as looking for jobs. When the search criteria and listed criteria match, the registered individual is informed of the vacancy, and he or she is able to further pursue that opening. Most developed countries have an efficient and effectively functioning jobs search service. In Britain, job centres provide a massive resource base for all unemployed labour to find jobs suited to their skills and interests. It is also based on their performance in the job search programme that determines the unemployment benefits they’re entitled to. With no such unemployment benefit programme existing in Sri Lanka, the only incentive for unemployed people to register under Jobs Net is sheer desperation to find employment. One would think that such a tried and tested system used in many countries today would work well in Sri Lanka too, where the asymmetries of job vacancy information desperately need to be bridged, and the unemployed population would hail this as a very useful device in their search for work. However, this has not been the case. Initial reports suggest that only 10% of the 180,000 unemployed who registered with Jobs Net since its inception, were actually found work. Despite the many regional centres that were set up, and the extent to which the government went to streamline the device to make it very user friendly, Jobs Net has failed to reap the desired results. Jobs Net is a private-public partnership mechanism. Bodies like the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, the Chambers of Commerce and other private business bodies would register under Jobs Net and its members would be requested to list any vacancies they may have, on the Jobs Net database. Simultaneously, the government opened up walk-in centres for the public to register themselves in the database giving all relevant applicant detail.
Ugh, our mindset…
The Sri Lankan work ethic and mentality is such that, for most graduates seeking employment the most favoured jobs are positions in government departments and offices, where productivity is low, work is slack, tour seat is safe once you get it, and you take a pay packet home at the end of the month. No (performance-based) questions asked. Therein lays the downfall of Jobs Net. It seems that the only applications entered in the database are by graduates looking for government employment. Whereas, the matching up of those, with actual vacancies in those offices are seemingly non-existent, owing to the fact that our govt depts are already choked with an over capacity of workforce, with tens of others (mostly ministerial henchman) merely employed as letter boys, tea boys and clerks just to satisfy a cheap political fancy.
Trying it again….
In the past week, Jobs Net came into focus once more, with the present government deciding to revive it and make it more dynamic. The private sector has assured the government that most of their members do actively part take in the programme, and do constantly register job opportunities with them, if and when they arise. However, they have cited severe difficulty in finding the workers they look for. For example, a showroom may register as requiring sales girls to serve customers, but hardly anyone has registered under jobs net to become sales girls. If someone was looking to be a sales person, they would be content with waiting for an opening to appear in the vacancies page in the daily papers. Those who register with Jobs Net seem to be only the very desperate of the unemployed, who have limited skills, and have limited experience, thus rendering little service to the private sector’s specific labour supply needs.
What needs morphing?
Until a few conditions are satisfied, Jobs Net will show limited results in the game of matching up skills to vacancies in the Sri Lankan job market. The mindset of the unemployed (or as I like to call it ‘yet-to-be-employed’) must change. They need to be willing to move away from the age-old yearning to be in govt employment for the sheer convenience of it, and take up more diverse employment options. Also, Jobs Net needs to be more robust, to ensure that it appeals to not only the most desperate searchers, but also to those who are temporarily shopping around for another job, whether it be a free lance web designer looking for his next assignment or a part time copywriter looking for some extra work.
Why it’s so vital…
Sri Lanka experiences a huge loss in productive output on a daily basis owing to the number of people unable to find suitable employment, those engaging in search unemployment and those suffering from a mismatch of skills. This can be largely attributed to asymmetric information within the job market. Jobs Net has placed the first steps towards breaking this down. It is now upto the private-public partnership to ensure it becomes the effective and efficient model it was intended to be. This is particularly important at a time when Sri Lanka is aiming to provide more BPO services to global businesses. With the advent of flexible labour markets and the breakdown of traditional, rigid, hiring and firing procedures around the world, Sri Lanka needs to adapt. A more detailed discussion on this to follow….