This is a peculiar country with a queer notion of welfare some people expect everything from the State free of charge from womb to tomb. They get and forget. They seem to think that the State is a huge soup kitchen. Worse, they do not care a damn about their duties and responsibilities as citizens, having benefited from free education, free health care etc.
The country has come to such a pass that university graduates demand jobs in the State sector as of right. Politicians have aggravated the situation over the years by burdening the public service which is already bursting at the seams, with more and more recruitment. It looks as if the provision of employment to graduates had become the raison d` tre of the State sector, which is an enormous drain on the public purse.
On Tuesday, a group of unemployed graduates tried to march on the Finance Ministry demanding jobs, which, they said, the government had promised. The incumbent government, no doubt, promised, before the last parliamentary and presidential elections, to launch a grandiose project to absorb unemployed university graduates into the public service. Today, it is in a tight spot. It seems to have realised how harebrained its graduate employment scheme is, too late in the day it has protesting graduates at the gate!
Our sympathies are with the unemployed graduates. If vacancies exist in the State institutions where they could fit in, they should be recruited, because how depressing it is to be unemployed is only too well known. But, the harsh reality is that the public sector is saturated.
Graduate unemployment is basically a question of lack of employability, which warrants the serious attention of policy makers. There are jobs available in this country but unfortunately the warring graduates are not attractive in the job market in spite of the education they have received. Nothing could be a more damning indictment on the university system than the plight of these youth.
On the other hand, graduates refuse to come to terms with their limitations and acquire professional qualifications and new skills they want jobs upon graduation. They ought to take cognisance of the fact that there will be no jobs in the State sector in time to come even for the products of the so-called professional faculties such as doctors. That has already happened to engineers.
The role of the State in this regard is best limited to the provision of a free and good education and the creation of conditions for employment generation. University graduates should prepare themselves for stiff competition in the job market, maybe even with others who do not possess academic qualifications as such but are equipped for the jobs available.
The education system is largely to be blamed for the quality of its products and a rethink of the kind of education provided by schools and universities is imperative. But, it is untenable to argue that schools and universities which should focus on the overall development of students have to function as job training centres.
Another factor that has led to an increase in the level of unemployment among the educated youth is the absence of dignity of labour where certain types of jobs are concerned. Who will want to drive a bus after completing university education or while reading for a PhD in this country? None! But, ironically, most, if not all, Sri Lankan students pursuing graduate or postgraduate studies in the western countries make a living out of dish washing, driving, gardening etc. It is not suggested that graduates settle for such jobs or underemployment be considered a way out but negative attitudes replete with stigma towards certain types of employment such as paddy farming, certainly have to change!
As for the unemployed graduates on the warpath, the government is in an unenviable position. It seems to have no alternative but to honour its promise even though anarcho-radical political elements are orchestrating their protests. Promises, as we keep repeating in these columns, are like babies they are easy to make but hard to deliver!