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Home EFC News Employers’ Symposium deliberates on future employment policy and best business practices to champion an efficiency-driven economy
Employers’ Symposium deliberates on future employment policy and best business practices to champion an efficiency-driven economy PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 December 2016 10:47

“We are today at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and amplifying one another. Smart systems—homes, factories, farms, grids or entire cities—will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change. Concurrent to this technological revolution are a set of broader socioeconomic, geopolitical and demographic developments, with nearly equivalent impact to the technological factors. We also find that on average respondents expect that the impact for nearly all drivers will occur within the next 5 years, highlighting the urgency for adaptive action today’- The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. 

In the wake of the ‘bugle call’ sent by The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, the Fifth Edition of the Employers’ Symposium which was held on November 9th, 2016 at the Cinnamon Grand, organized by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) under the theme of ‘Repositioning Sri Lanka- Meeting the Employment Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, was by all means an arresting of the same. The symposium sought to resonate the ‘disruptive changes to business models’ which will have a ‘profound impact on the employment landscape’ as envisaged by the Report further. 

Emerging enterprise models

The panelists drawn from the EFC member companies, in a spurred dialogue, deliberated on ‘drivers of transformation’ currently affecting global industries, effects of which naturally filter to the local industrial landscape. These drivers of transformation as the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report endorse ‘are expected to have significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened labour productivity to widening skills gaps.’ It further notes that ‘in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.’

The Symposium which unfolded under the segments of ‘Redesigning Organizations’, ‘Reskilling’ and ‘Rethinking Employment’, complemented by case studies which expounded some of the local success stories in these realms, tabled means of finding sustainable solutions that would enable employers to incorporate best practices and employment strategies suited for their organizations in the backdrop of global business contest, fuelled by unprecedented technological advancements.

The process of transforming ‘old workplaces’ into ‘new workplaces’ has been triggered by a number of factors such as increasing pressures on organisations to be more cost effective, competitive and customer-focused by adopting the principles of a lean enterprise; rapid advancements in communication and information technology prompting organisations to transcend beyond traditional boundaries and the emergence of new models of employer-employee relations based on employability and value addition while ensuring employee engagement. Mindful of these demands, the panel members shared their experience in selecting appropriate business models and re-designing organisations to support the achievement of business strategies and objectives and also discussed ‘new enterprise models’ which can swiftly respond to customer demands, adapt to technological developments and create employee engagement.
The priorities of the employees are changing in a setting where they are facing an internal employee shortage. The dilemma is further heightened by the fact that 63% of the employers in Asia Pacific find it challenging to find right skills required by them. The panel discussion also revealed that 87% of the Asian Pacific communities prefer working outside their countries. The formidable challenges faced by the plantation sector were also tabled, among which weather, employment cost and the commodity trap are significant. Embracing the new technology and diversifying the human resource are among the notable measures the plantation sector had taken in recent times to engineer it to changing times. 

The panellists under the ‘Redesigning Organizations’ segment comprised Mr. Shakun Khanna - Senior Director - HCM Strategy & Transformation at Oracle, Asia Pacific, Mr. Vish Govindasamy, Group Managing Director, Sunshine Holdings, Mr. Radesh Daluwatte, Managing Director/CEO, Ceylon Oxygen Limited, Mr. Rohan Fernando, Managing Director, Elpitiya Plantations and Mr. Damian Gilkerson, Managing Director, GSK Pharmaceuticals Sri Lanka. The session was moderated by Dr. Chandratilleke, Senior Consultant (Human Resource Development, The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon)
Changing talent landscape
Driven by demographic, socio-economic and technological change and disruption, the implications which reflect on the talent landscape and demands placed on employees to redesign employment were also deliberated by the panelists. The urgent need for reskilling and upskilling of talents and the importance of striking a balancing between the ‘old’ employees and ‘millennials’ was also expounded by the panelists who urged companies to recreate their legacy structure which is responsive to changes. 

With the ever increasing need for flexibility in business operations, organizations are called upon to be leaner and faster and more responsive to global change than ever before.  Entities operating in a rigid legal/regulatory environment as those here at home, are faced with additional challenges.  One concern deliberated at the symposium was whether traditional organizations and employment of today will exist in the future: will we move from employment to entities consisting totally or mostly of outsourced operations, command and control centers or coordinating mechanisms with minimum staff.  If so, what kind of regulatory structures should be in place?  Or will technology enable more persons to function as independent contractors?  Would part time work for several employees be more the norm than an exception?  What would the recruitment and retention challenges be for this group? Leveraging flexible work arrangements and online talent platforms will be an essential skill, as business may increasingly connect and collaborate remotely with free lancers and independent professionals in core work areas.  Factors such as these would not only affect employment levels, but also call for a re-definition of the HR function. 
Anticipating a complete overhaul of core skills we perceive today by 2020, the urgency for reskilling and upskilling of talents is unprecedented. Needless to say that nearly 85% of the organizations anticipate a major overhaul in their talent management programmes and employment policies as well. The significance of striking a balancing between the ‘old’ employees and ‘millennials’ was also expounded by the panelists, who urged companies to recreate their legacy structure which is responsive to changes. 

The panellists under the ‘Rethinking Employment’ segment comprised Mr. Edgar Tung, Managing Director Group HR, Organizational Development and Communication, Esquel Group, Mr. Ravi Peiris, Senior Employer Specialist, Employers’ Activities, ILO DWT for So
uth Asia / Former Director General, The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Mr. Anushka Wijesinha, Chief Economist, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Roshan Rajadurai, Managing Director, Kelani Valley Plantations PLC and Ms. Sheamalee Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director, Ceylon Biscuits Limited. The Session was moderated by Mr. Gotabaya Dasanayaka, Former Senior Specialist on Employer Activities for the South Asian Region, ILO / Former Director General, The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon.
Towards an efficiency-driven economy

Drawing attention to the forces that have impeded the process of bridging the gap between industrial needs and the skill shortage, the experts cited lack of integrated skills development strategy, brain drain, structural drawbacks in the education system and low participation by the private sector in technical and vocational training. An innovative exercise of remedying these forces with a collective will was lobbied for by all participants. 

The Global Competitiveness Report 2015 notes that, having been a ‘Factor Driven Economy’ for several decades, it is only very recently that Sri Lanka has graduated into an ‘Efficiency Driven Economy.’ Thus, the skills profile required by a country such as Singapore, which has reached the level of an ’Innovation Driven Economy’ based on knowledge intensive industries or Malaysia, which is classified as a stage ‘2-3 Transition Economy’ and progressively moving towards an innovation driven economy cannot be applied in its totality to us. In our case, there is a definite need to identify the skills requirements to suit an ‘Efficiency Driven Economy’ and thereafter to push the country from that stage to become a ‘Stage 2 Transition Economy’. Against this macro background, the panellists highlighted the skills gap in relation to the macro economic transition, skills requirements to gain competitive advantage in a competitive business environment and elucidated certain factors that have impeded the process of bridging the gap.

In the process of reskilling for the future, innovation cannot be underpinned and as raised at the symposium, equipping one’s self with sound technical skills alone will not suffice unless ropes of people management are also acquired and honed. In the digital era, each employee being armed with skills which cannot be replicated by a machine is also imperative in order to retain the job. 

Surveys indicate that there are significant skill shortages in the Construction, Hospitality, IT and Light Engineering sectors. The plantation sector and the apparel industry are no exceptions. The World Bank Employer Survey 2012 indicates that 56% employers expect high skilled workers to pass GCE Advance Level as minimum qualification, while only 18% of the population possesses this qualification in reality. Moreover, 60% of employers expect an average worker in high skilled occupations to have completed a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) course, although in reality only 16% is TVET qualified. Similarly while 80% of employers expect a high skilled worker to be knowledgeable in English, only 20% of population is conversant in the language. 

Factors that have impeded the process of bridging the gap / mismatch include relevance and quality issues related to the education system, brain drain, long job hunt by young people and lower effectiveness of TVET. It was also pointed
 out that the low effectiveness of TVET could be linked to the lack of integrated skills development strategy, societal perceptions about TVET, lack of effective management, shortage of qualified instructional staff and lack of private sector participation in TVET.

The panellists for the session on ‘Reskilling’ comprised Dr. T.A. Piyasiri, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Ms. Bani Chandrasena, Head of Human Resources, Millennium Information Technologies, Mr. Shakthi Ranatunga, Group Human Resource Director, MAS Holdings (Private) Limited, Ms. Dilani Alagaratnam, President, Group HR & Legal, John Keells Holdings PLC and Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka, Independent Consultant. The Session was moderated by Mr. Isuru S Tillakawardana, Deputy General Manager, Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC. 
Producing employable and skilled graduates

In his key note address, Chairman, University Grants Commission, Prof. Mohan de Silva expounded the urgent need for developing a National Policy for Human Resource Development and called for university- industry collaborations. “Producing of high quality human resources is the prime responsibility of higher education and vocational training. As per the statistics, every year there are around 230,000 admissions at the primary education level.  Significant dropouts are noted between grade 8 and 13 which amounts to 150,000,” remarked Prof de Silva who bemoaned that these drop outs will eventually become either three wheel drivers or unskilled workers. 

Questioning if our graduates and employable, the UGC Chairman cited a study done in 2014 which reveals that most students from Arts and Management streams were unemployed after six months of graduation. Despite 60% of the university entrants being female the unemployment levels among females from the Arts stream reflect a percentage of 85.9% after graduation according to this study.

Prof de Silva who cited a gamut of issues responsible for producing an unskilled workforce, also called for a quality assurance system in the higher education sector. “The UGC is doing this in respect to state universities but there is no provision for the same in non-state higher education providers.” He also urged for the establishment of Technology Transfer Centres with competent personnel, more public-private collaborations and a higher level of support both at the Treasury level and at policy level to encourage research and development activities. 

“Our education system based on performance has not undergone sufficient change since its inception, whereas the British system on which our system was based on, has evolved significantly. At present the Government is actively promoting public private-partnerships with the view of preventing the outflow of foreign currency and to promote the country as a higher education destination.” Citing the World Bank Report on University – Industry Collaboration published in October 2016, UGC Chairman noted a drop in funding for Research Development from what it was in 2007, making us lagging behind our regional counterparts. “Conversion of research into commercialization is very low even in the USA, but there the tolerance of failure in this area is high. This, along with the well-established IP protection framework helps the country do innovations,” maintained Prof De Silva who cited Sri Lanka Institute of Nano Technology Pvt Limited as our success story in this regard. The institute has registered multiple patents in the US and has an incubation center with the latest equipment facilitating the development of prototypes.

Making global moves locally relevant

Industrial and technological revolutions of the past have resulted in the growth of economies and productivity. The creation of new jobs, not only act as a catalyst in this process but would overcome the short-term challenges that are bound to arise by the replacement of lower skilled labour with those of higher skills and competencies, remarked the Director General, Employers’ Federation (EFC) Kanishka Weerasinghe in his introductory remarks.

He noted that in certain regions, stakeholders have reacted passively to recent developments in technology and its impact on the world of work. “They have even cast doubt in relation to the opportunities that are emerging,” observed the DG, EFC who maintained that it would be critical to avoid ‘structural unemployment’ and ‘job polarization’ that would otherwise lead to a loss of confidence and public support that is essential to enable job transitions and mobility. “As employers it will be imperative for us to accommodate the requirements and interests of workers and the unions which represent them. Understanding stakeholder interests and dealing with issues decisively to implement strategies and solutions that are advantageous to each other would also be essential if we are to succeed in this endeavour.”

In this process, contending with issues and trends that are universally relevant, such as the global talent competition, emergence of new forms of work and flexible work arrangements as well as catering to demands related to a range of factors from worker autonomy to migration are imperative he said. The EFC Chief also recapped that while being conscious of issues and trends that are universally relevant such as the global talent competition, emergence of new forms of work and flexible work arrangements as well as catering to demands related to a range of factors from worker autonomy to migration,” it is also imperative to tackle certain problems ‘closer to home’.  Dealing with demographic issues, particularly with regard to an ageing population, balancing the aspirations of millennials as well as taking measures to increase the participation of women and youth in workforce, were cited by Mr. Weerasinghe in this regard. “Implementing labour market reforms as well as educating bureaucrats and politicians to understand the urgency of bringing Sri Lanka to be in ‘step with time’ in order to become better competitive is a need of the hour,” he further noted. 

As the curtain falls over another fruitful symposium which proved to be an invigorating exercise of mutual sharing and learning among the EFC member corporates committed to changing business paradigms and thereby influence policy-makers, it is fitting to revisit the observations of Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum who describes the new world order as ‘Ubiquitous, mobile, supercomputing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements and genetic editing.’ Prof. Schwab surmises that ‘evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed’, which he proceeds to identify as the 4th Industrial Revolution. 

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 16:41