ICTs and Youth Aspirations
From factory bench to computer chair, the job aspirations of Sri Lanka’s youth are changing rapidly. In the 1980s, following the liberalisation of the economy and limited industrialisation that came with it (particularly in the hundreds of ready-made garment factories), the country’s youth saw manufacturing sector work as the path to prosperity. Thirty years on, gaining upward social mobility necessarily means, in the minds of many young people, getting a service sector job – an officer in a government department, a sales assistant in a retail outlet, and of course, a computer whiz in an IT business. With economic growth and poverty reduction over the last decade, young people today, especially in urban areas across the country, arguably enjoy a better standard of living than before. This influences their ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ when it comes to their choice of occupation. While it is the generation before them that helped them get there, they are reaping its benefits. But, we often find that their aspirations and preferences have gone ahead of the reality on offer. The Sri Lankan economy continues to be unsophisticated – driven by crop processing and light manufacturing – and the IT and IT-enabled services (ITeS) sector is underdeveloped and concentrated in Colombo. So, the question is, will the changing aspirations of Sri Lanka’s young people towards “IT jobs” be matched by the changing structure of the Sri Lankan economy and will the government and the private sector be able to respond to these changes? This feature attempts to explore this question.
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