`The Final Step`, a five-day series of soft skills workshops, presented by the John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation (JKSRF), in collaboration with the English Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) of the University of Kelaniya, took place from 28 January-1 February 2008 at the university. Designed to enhance the employability of graduates, the programme involved two panel discussions as well as three interactive workshops dealing with varied subjects such as Employer Expectations, Team Building and Leadership Skills, Adapting to the Corporate Environment, Personality Development and Confidence Building, Personal Grooming and Corporate Hospitality with each day of the workshop attracting over two hundred and fifty final year undergraduates. This is the second time the programme has been presented.
Employability of undergraduates from local universities has given rise to much debate within the private sector, with many misconceptions and perceptions preventing both parties from leveraging on each others` strengths. While Sri Lankan graduates receive a strong academic grounding at university, the development of soft skills such as personality development, confidence building, presentation and social skills often take a backseat. However, it is these soft skills that provide graduates with a competitive advantage in the job market.
Commenting on the joint initiative, Prof. M. J. S. Wijeratne, Vice Chancellor, University of Kelaniya, said, `This is an excellent opportunity for our undergraduates to develop that veneer of `soft skill` that are so important in increasing one`s employability today and I am sure they will make the best use of these workshops. This initiative also represents an important partnership - that between the academia and the private sector in Sri Lanka - and I am very glad that John Keells Holdings and the ELTU have taken this pioneering step towards further progress.`
Added Ms. Romola Rasool, Head of the ELTU, University of Kelaniya, `It is with the intention of making graduates more employable and giving them an introduction to the corporate sector that we formulated a proposal to impart soft skills to final year undergraduates across all faculties. The John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation was instrumental in designing a course framework, inviting resource persons with expertise in each field, and we worked together towards making the workshops a truly enriching experience for the students. We are delighted that JKH has continued this partnership and are also thankful to our many guest speakers who willingly committed their time and knowledge to the project.`
This series of workshops is part of an eight week English course especially designed for final year students of the University of Kelaniya. The English course titled `English Skills for Final Years` is supported by the IRQUE Project of the World Bank, and is aimed at giving the necessary English language skills to students as they embark on their professional careers.
The first panel discussion focused on Employer Expectations while the second dealt with Team Building and Leadership Skills. Among the eminent panelists at the discussions were . Rienzie Wijetilleke, Chairman - Hatton National Bank, Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, CEO - Dialog Telekom PLC, Ms. Amali Nanayakkara, CEO - Bharti Airtel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, Harsha Alles, Director - Gateway Group, Dilith Jayaweera, Joint Managing Director - Triad Advertising, Ms Dilani Alagaratnam, President HR and Legal - John Keells Holdings, Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, Managing Director - Eagle Insurance PLC, Sriyan de S. Wijeyeratne, Country Manager - Microsoft Sri Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam, Director - John Keells Holdings PLC, Mr. Dian Gomes, Group Director - MAS Holdings and CEO/MD - MAS Intimates Cluster and Ms. Sandya Salgado, Director/CEO - Ogilvy Action. The panel discussions were moderated by Dr Uditha Liyanage, Head of Academic Affairs - Post Graduate Institute of Management.
Three days of interactive workshops followed, with Ms. Nayana Karunaratne of Image Consultants and Fouzul Hameed of Hameedia presenting tips on personal grooming, and corporate hospitality. Undergraduates were also introduced to the unwritten rules of the corporate environment and how to adapt to it by Shameera Leitan of Third Wave Group while Corporate Trainer, Kushan Dharmawardena, addressed the students on personality development and confidence building.
`University undergraduates represent the future of our nation the wealth of knowledge, talent and potential that will take Sri Lanka forward to reach new heights`, said Sumithra Gunesekera, Director, John Keells Holdings. `Yet, sadly, many today are ignorant of the employability and potential of this gifted group of young people. Through The Final Step, what we are working towards is making these undergraduates blossom helping them to bring out the best in themselves, shine in their workplaces in the future and build successful careers for themselves. The response we received at these workshops are proof of the graduates` desire to explore the options available to them in the private sector and we are glad that it was a rewarding experience for them.`