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Sunday, 19 June 2016





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Dearth of right-skilled people

First Human Capital summit in August:

Sri Lanka has the potential to become a high income economy through a strategic focus on improving its human capital. Human capital needs to be a strategic driver for inclusive economic growth to help the country become a competitive player in Asia.

Dinesh Weerakkody

However, educational attainment in Sri Lanka - which in the early 60s was far better than even Malaysia or South Korea - has fallen way behind, undermining the country's growth prospects.

"Sri Lanka needs a debate on improving its human capital through a well-developed strategy; and education system.

We are in the process of organizing the country's first Human Capital Summit on August 11 and 12; this will be inaugurated by Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe where the PM will outline Sri Lanka's Human Capital Strategy," Dinesh Weerakkody, a senior company director and a thought leader in HR told the Business Observer in an interview.


What are the top challenges HR Managers face in their job today?

In discussions with HR professionals, I often start with a simple question; 'What is the greatest challenge you face in your job today?' Most of the answers are around things like: building credibility with my line managers, managing the flow of talent (bringing in new people, matching people to job, or removing people), handling employee grievances, managing HR costs efficiently, and so forth.

These appropriate responses are now dated and need to move forward. The HR profession has been through several stages; The administrative work of HR, where HR focused on terms and conditions of work, delivering HR services, and working on regulatory compliance; The design of innovative HR practices in sourcing, compensation or rewards, learning and communication; The connection of these practices to business success through strategic HR; And using HR practices to derive and respond to external business conditions.

Many of the responses I get to my query "what is your biggest challenge" still target Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Employers see skills shortage as a major constraint and question the quality and relevance of general education, TVET and higher education. PICTURE: ANCL MEDIA LIBRARY

HR professionals are consumed with the immediate hurdles they face in doing HR work.

These are legitimate and relevant concerns. In recent conversations, a number of senior HR executives have shared with me that HR has forgotten these basics and without doing the basics well, the aspirations of business contribution remain an unrealized dream.

In most companies, the HR manager is employed to help translate business strategy into the daily actions of people; but often the results are not very effective. Why?

To connect HR to the broader business context in which business operates is the key challenge for HR.

That needs HR to build credibility with line managers so that HR can make better decisions that help the business reach its goals so that they can anticipate and respond to external business conditions and deliver value to customers and investors.

By doing this, HR professionals shift from an inside/out to an outside/in approach to HR work.

HR no longer creates value by simply serving employees, but by making sure that services the company offers inside the company is aligned to the expectations outside the company.

For example, a company would aspire to be the employer of choice of employees the customers would choose. Every HR practice can be transformed by seeing the value that it creates for those outside the company. This positions HR, to not just respond to strategy, but to help shape and create it.

What are the hurdles Sri Lanka has to overcome in its forward march?

Learning outcomes in primary and secondary education are still very low; and show disparities by location, parental income and school streams. Only 25% of young people coming out of secondary education go for higher education, where access is very low and inequitable; Of which a large share of students is in humanities and arts relative to sciences/engineering (50% vs. 17%); a great variation in quality and abysmal quality of external degree programs (40% of total enrollment).

Another 30% enroll in TVET with low quality and relevance to market needs, while the remaining 45% will have no opportunity to acquire further job-specific skills (except on the job market).

Employers see skills shortage as a major constraint; and question the quality and relevance of general education, TVET and higher education.

If we are to move forward, we need to address several issues; the national education strategy needs to take into account that skill building is a continuous process starting from early childhood: Skills beget skills along the life-cycle. Simply looking at the end of the education cycle may not help our country in the long term. Broadly; we need to focus on improving quality.

For instance:

* Primary and Secondary Education: focus on improving quality.

* International benchmarking needed: participate in international assessments to assess quality gap and monitor progress over time.

* Investment in teacher quality. Not more teachers, but teachers with the right expertise; recruit on merit; redeploy according to needs (with incentive package if needed). Motivate teachers (revision of pay scales, career progression; reward performance).

* Increase availability of science and technology streams in secondary schools

* Strengthen quality assurance and school-based management by increasing parental and community involvement.

* Provide more information and career guidance to students about possible future studies and career opportunities.

* Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET): Make it relevant. Ensure private sector participation in definition/updating of standards, course contents, training of instructors, apprenticeship opportunities.

* Build capacity for labour market analysis and assessment of employers.

* Expand quality control (registration/accreditation) to cover public and private providers.

* Try out vouchers schemes/purchasing of private sector services on a pilot basis, evaluate before scaling up. Ensure prior dissemination of information about performance of centers and job prospects to guide students decisions.

* Strengthen coordination between the various relevant Ministries and institutions providing TVET through an Inter-Ministerial Skill Coordination Committee.

* Higher Education: upgrade

Increase university intake in priority degree programs.

Introduce scholarship schemes for junior academics in priority disciplines; consider appointing international faculty as needed. (to address the severe faculty shortage).

Introduce PPPs to stimulate development of accredited private national and international institutions.

Ensure competitive funding of research.

How do you look at the HR culture in the State sector? What are the issues and solutions?

A: Are we investing sufficiently to develop public sector capacity? The answer is no. The transformation of the Public Services is a must. It will help ensure that the public services deliver value to citizens and residents of the country. The government should operate efficiently and effectively.

It should be an institution that has a clear sense of purpose, vision and values. It should be an institution whose purpose, vision and values are formulated to enhance the well being of its collective internal and external stakeholders.

It should also be an institution that translates its purpose, vision and values into reality through effective leadership and HR development policies and practices. At another level, the ability of Civil Service to reform helps shape an overall identity for Sri Lanka.

The government becomes an example of not only how government works, but also how the broader society can and should function including the private sector and social institutions (NGOs). A company and a nation may have an identity or 'brand' that infuses itself throughout a society.

This brand defines what the country is known for; how it builds on its past to prepare for its future; how it innovates; how it governs, makes decisions, and allocates resources; how it develops human capability; and how it turns values and beliefs into actions and practices through people and organization. Sri Lanka needs to prepare the country for the present as well as for the future generations; it must define its economic future and create human capital that can accomplish that future.

We are an aging population. Shouldn't we let people work at least till 65?

We need to find new ways of tapping into that experience pool without disrupting the culture of the work place.

In the present corporate culture, we talk a lot about HR and Sustainability. Sustainable business practices precede sustainable business culture. How do we achieve this?

I agree with you. Sustainable business practices precede sustainable business culture. Embedding a sustainable culture is the responsibility of HR. Its role in supporting sustainability is, therefore, three-fold.

First, it must ensure that a sustainable approach to managing employees is part of business strategy. Employee health and safety, work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, gender equality, hiring and firing practices, fair rewards, a living wage, employee learning and growth, positive internal communications, open dialogue and employee involvement in the community are all themes that are part of sustainable business practices.

Secondly HR must realign key HR practices to adapt to the principles of sustainability. Thirdly, get leadership support to implement the HR agenda. To me, sustainability begins at home, and HR's first role is to ensure that a company manages its employees in a sustainable way. A truly sustainable business is created when all employees are aware of how their roles contribute to the sustainability agenda.


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