Do Young People have the Skills to Realize their Aspirations?


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My friends and I often have casual chats at the university café and cafeteria about random topics ranging from life, the future, jobs and wherever else the conversation leads us. Recently, I participated in a discussion conducted by a research company where they asked for insights from University seniors and recent graduates about our aspirations.

There were 7 of us in the group from the University of Colombo, Kelaniya, Jayewardenepaura and Moratuwa. The representative from the research company asked about our goals. Though I’ve known them for 3 years, this is the first time I heard them seriously talk about their ambitions and goals in life. Most of them have very lofty goals and objectives. We were asked to list important considerations for potential jobs. This is what we came up with.

• A friendly and multi-cultural working environment
• Competitive salary according to qualification with benefits
• Opportunities to travel
• Distance to the work place
• Challenging working environment
• Openness in sharing ideas

It was a small group and we are curious about what the entire population would say. However, I had a number of questions after the discussion. I think we can all agree that we have very high expectations and would like to live a comfortable life. However, are we qualified enough to make these demands or is it simply wishful thinking?

When I initially entered the University, I thought getting good grades and knowing English would be sufficient. However, it became clear that more was needed when we began fumbling through our interviews while looking for jobs. With the continuous increase in the competition for limited jobs, how we should best match our skills with our aspirations to realize our lofty goals?

I began asking myself, how can I stand out from others and best add value? These thoughts motivated me to learn new things, seize opportunities and continually challenge myself. I became involved in youth organizations and extracurricular activities to develop my interpersonal skills which have greatly increased my confidence and ability to engage with others.

From the discussion it was clear that my all of us came to the realization of the importance of balancing academic knowledge with other skills. Although marks are important, fostering analytical & critical thinking skills as well as being innovative will help us become more beneficial to society.


Join the Conversation

Keshavi Puswewala
November 15, 2011

In the situation in Sri Lanka , the focus on other activities are much low and due to this most of the students in the universities are trying to get best grades for academics. In our degree certificates there is no much information regarding what we did apart from the academics and if there was something like that in it, i think people will re think on doing something extra apart from the degree.
So what you have told is really valuable and thanks a lot for the comment David.

Udara Dharmasena
November 14, 2011

First of all, I'd say this is a good post.. It's good to hear even few of the graduates in Sri Lanka do understand the pathetic situation in our poor education system and trying hard to overcome it.. Pass your message to the fellow students and make them aware.. Good luck..!

Keshavi Puswewala
November 14, 2011

Thanks for the comment Udara and yes, I think our undergraduates need awareness on what kinds of skills and competencies that they should have. When they enter in to the University most of them forget that they need to actively participate in other activities along with their academics. This is an issue which should be addressed when they were at schools (As I believe) so that they are aware what awaits them in future. So again , thanks a lot and really appreciate your comment.

Brototi Roy
November 16, 2011

This is a thought provoking article, and is not contained within the boundaries of Sri Lanka alone. Most South Asian countries face the same problem. Unlike the developed countries where many undergraduate programs have compulsory internship periods during the course, the approach to value-addition to our knowledge or practical experience is very laid back. So, the students themselves have to take up all the initiative if they wish to broaden their horizons. Also, even though the scenario has been changing in the last few years, the scope of alternative careers is very low. Parents still prefer engineers and doctors, and social sciences are rather neglected. The education system needs a massive change, and quick one at that.

david k waltz
November 15, 2011

In the US, a college degree will get most (and it is most, not all) a position in their select field, yet once a couple of years have passed it all becomes about the work record.

A degree might be a "check the box" for some fields, but that will be it.

To the extent the "other skills" mentioned in the blog post help contribute to a track record of successfully accomplishing challenging roles, projects, etc. and are indicative of future potential, they are critical. Whether this is the case in other areas of the world...this is what experts in those areas need to determine.


November 15, 2011

this is good piece of work.

this is the same issue in African and malawi in particular especially with the fact
that jobs are becoming hard to get. its time our education focus on entrepreneurship
November 16, 2011

This piece of entry is very inspiring.

We agree that education and skills training are important for young people to realise their aspirations. However, what is more important is that the market should open up them opportunities to realise and actualise their skills and knowledge. Nowadays, with economic downturn, there are many young people who are unemployed. Without a stepping stone for them to get into the society, how can they actually realise their skills and aspirations?

We think the opening of market is the precondition of helping youth realising their values. At this point, responsible employers and governments should do something!

Keshavi Puswewala
November 16, 2011

Thanks for your comments Chinguwo and Rafi
yeah it is true that as we are not getting any chance in the university to learn about our potential and skills as we are so focussed with our academics. Yet I think we can try out and develop ourselves by doing extra curricular activities and challenging ourselves to do something apart from the academics and I believe that it can help and improve our capacity.
If the undergraduates are aware about what really awaits them after the university life, then i really believe it will create an urgency in their minds to improve themselves. Sometimes we can't wait until the higher authorities do something. We can strive for ourselves and learn to market ourselves so that the companies can say NO to us at the interview.

January 04, 2012

Thank you all for the comments. I thought that these issues are common only to countries in South Asia most of the time yet it seems that that it is something that is common to most of our countries.
As I believe it is the high time that the country authorities get inputs from the youth sector and think in a different way. At the same time it is the time where our parents need to see the world as a place where it is going to be more challenging. At the same time the school system should identify the new trends in the world and make the education system according to it with updated knowledge. This can not be achieved by one party and It is something that everyone has to think of and come up with a solution.
That is what i felt when i thought of this issue.

Thanks a lot for your support with comments.

December 27, 2011

Liked this thought-provoking blog of yours. In our country we're also getting to to the root of the unskilled youth issues. You hit the nail on the head by pointing out that this issue should have been addressed while they were still in school. But here, the internship program had its failures, both public and private employers failed to identify the real problem of skills development. And now a new skilled development program is seeking to address the skill gaps in the job market. Insha'allah this time we shall atleast capture some unemployed youth to the system. It really is time for a reflective excercise..

Douglas Opio
December 14, 2011

Many thanks Keshavi Puswewala for the insighful article. I certainly agree with you. You may assume that your thinking is based on a small sample, but quite frankly you are right. We have high hopes as individuals, but most education systems in Africa do not provide us with the right tools to achieve them. In Uganda, for example, knowledge is given more attention compared to other aspects of education such as skills and values. The education system also tends to portray skills based aspects as secondary and just an option in case one fails to go through the mainstream. The end result has been that Technical and Vocational Education and Training is being pursued by those who could not make it through the mainstream channel and therefore opted for it as the last resort. Schools are failing to allocate sufficient time to core aspects such as analytical and critical thinking, language and others, because that is not what counts in terms of the grades which raise the status of a school in the public domain. We need serious reforms in our education system.