The COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic crisis leading to a decrease in available jobs worldwide. Sri Lanka is no exception. As per Department of Census and Statistics data, Sri Lankas unemployment rate in 2020 was 5.5 percent. Deeply worrying is that unemployment rates for women were twice as high as those for men, 8.5% and 4.0% respectively, and more than half of all unemployed people were age 15-24 years.
In Sri Lanka, a discrepancy between the skills employers seek and the skills that individuals posess continues to be an issue among educated young people. In response, the National Library of Sri Lanka (NLSL) decided to invest in education and training programmes to reskill and upskill job seekers entering the workforce.
In June 2020, the NLSL formed a partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) – Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative (CWRI) and started the programme “Skills Online Sri Lanka Programme (SOSLP) – Employed for the Unemployed”.
The programme offers scholarships and access to more than 5,000 courses from world-renowned universities and institutes and certifies course completion. Courses cover topics such as digital transformation, entrepreneurship, web development, leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking.
The NLSL called for online applications, reviewed scholarship applications and recommended successful applicants to the COL. The programme was open to those wanting to gain new skills to secure a job or to start mini or micro-enterprises. A country-wide focus was placed on engaging unemployed women, young people and those with disabilities.
By March 2021, the programme produced more than 4,300 learners who earned 21,343 certificates. Nearly half of the students who enrolled in and completed the programme were women, 40% were youth, and 27% were persons with disabilities.
To engage these target groups in training, the NLSL collaborated with diverse organisations such as the Vocational Training Institute, public libraries, educational institutions, and employers. The NLSL and the Colombo Public Library provided their Wi-Fi and ICT facilities enabling students to access the learning platform and complete the courses.
The programme’s evaluation revealed a life-changing impact for programme participants. “For a long time, I wanted to obtain a professional qualification to find a new job directly relating to IT. But I couldn’t afford the fees. I was offered the scholarship and completed the five-course certificate. Now my goal is to find a job in the IT industry a field, I have a passion for.” – shared a visually impaired learner, Pasan Godakanda.
Wimarshika Thamali Rathnayake spoke of the positive impact of the programme on her job search, “This is my first job. The courses were really helpful for me to find this job.” Similarly, Chanaka Perera shared, “I was one of the lucky Sri Lankans to grab it and complete more than 100 courses throughout the scholarship period. I was unemployed when I started, but now I am employed.”
After presenting the programme’s outcomes, the COL extended its support and the scholarship programme through its “Skills for Work” initiative until March 2024, and the NLSL will continue making an impact with the addition of more than 7,500 scholarships.