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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Employability of agriculture, engineering and science graduates

Daily News: 09/10/2007" by Dr. P.R.M.P Dilrukshi and Dr. Seetha I Wickremasinghe,

Manpower planning is an important issue, which aims at development, utilisation, improvement and preservation of the knowledge stock of human resources.

The main purpose or advantage of manpower planning is that it enables the concerned authorities to identify the critical areas of shortage and/or the inefficient usage of already available labour force. This in turn will help taking corrective measures in advance, to prevent the surplus or the shortage of skilled manpower.

The contribution of scientific and technical manpower to the socio- economic growth and development has been well acknowledged by most of the fast developing countries.
This has been possible through the effective utilization of scientific and technical manpower in the productive activities via incorporation of the latest science and technological advancements. The task of production of specialized manpower in Science and Technology areas is usually undertaken by the university system of a particular country.

In Sri Lanka, the present university system comprises 15 universities. According to the UGC Statistics 2004, the Government had spent a total of 2.61 percent of GNP (~ Rs. million 40,203) on education for the year 2003. The expenditure on University education was 0.42 percent of GNP, which was about Rs. million 6,497. Therefore, it is critical that the resources spent on higher education must be effectively utilised.

It further highlights the fact that the university curricular must be designed in such a way that the educated people produced by these institutions will have prospective candidature in the present day job market.

Regular investigation on the current needs and trends in the S&T labour market becomes important at this juncture and this could be facilitated by conducting regular labour market surveys or graduate tracer studies.

The results of such surveys and the indicators so developed will enable the relevant authorities to be aware of the demand and supply of S&T manpower in the country, to identify the gaps between the two, and also to note the trend of the job market according to various fields of S&T graduates.

Such data will also help them to take suitable action well in advance to equip the undergraduates with modern knowledge required for the fast development trends in the world.
At the same time, the relevant authorities must also recognize that proper S&T manpower planning has a vital effect on uplifting the country's economy.

The shortage of the S&T work force will disrupt the development plans in the country and at the same time, the over-production of manpower in a particular field will create a surplus causing unemployment or underemployment of the S&T graduates.

This, in turn, will lead to the Brain Drain of qualified manpower from the country to other developed countries where they are well utilised and paid.

The unemployment or underemployment of youth in the country, on the other hand, can lead to serious social unrest and related problems. Therefore, the demand and supply of graduates will have to be well balanced by careful monitoring of the labour market in the field of science and Technology.

Recognising the importance of above issue, the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the directive of the Ministry of Science and Technology initiated a series of studies to investigate the employment status of graduates in the fields of agriculture, engineering and science.

The study series first started in the year 2001. The first survey investigated the employment status of graduates passed out during the period of 1998-1999.

A subsequent study was conducted in 2003 for the graduates passed out in the years 2000 and 2001, which was followed by the third survey in year 2004 for graduates passed out in year 2002. The fourth survey conducted in 2005 was to trace the graduates who passed out from the national universities in year 2003.

The main objectives of these consecutive surveys were to investigate the occupational status after one year of graduation, the absorption pattern to the labour market in accordance with the degree and the specialized area, and finally the obstacles faced by the S&T graduates in finding a suitable employment in the country. The occupational status recorded after one year of graduation Employment rate recorded in the year 2005 (93 percent) was the highest employment rate recorded within the past five years.

The obvious reason for this higher rate was the present government policy in recruiting forty thousand graduates to the government service. The lowest employment rate was recorded for S&T graduates in the year 2003 (61 percent). Accordingly, the unemployment rate was higher in year 2003 recording 31percent rate. The lowest unemployment rate was recorded in year 2005 (4.5 percent).

Interestingly, it is noted that the self-employed graduates were very low in number among the S&T graduates. However, this number appears to be increased when there is a high unemployment rate and it was also noted that most of these self-employed graduates were involved in private tuition as tutors until they find a suitable employment.

The number of graduates involved in further education or registered for higher degrees has increased steadily from 2001-2004 (3.5 percent in 2001 to 5.5 percent in 2004). However, this has suddenly dropped to 1.5percent in 2005 with the incidence of increased employment rate in this particular year (Table 1). Table 1: The occupational status of S&T graduates during the
past five years (1999-2005)

Employment status 2001 2003 2004 2005
Year graduated 1998/1999 2000/2001 2002 2003
Employed 78.0 61.0 71.5 92.9
Engaged in further education only 3.0 3.6 5.5 1.5
Self-employed 1.0 2.3 3.3 1.1
Unemployed 14.6 30.5 19.7 4.5
Not Specified 3.4 2.6 - -
Total 100 100 100 100

The occupational status of graduates according to different degree programmes The results of these studies also indicated that the employment rates of different degree programmes vary. Generally, a higher employment rate was recorded for the engineering graduates.
The employment rate of Agriculture and Science graduates varied considerably within the years surveyed. In 2003, there was a noticeable decline in the employment rate regardless of the graduate degree programme.

In 2005, high employment rate was recorded in all the degree fields due to the government policy adopted to recruit 40,000 graduates to the government employment. This reduced the unemployment rate of graduates, a clear record of 19percent in 2004 which further dropped to 4.5 percent in 2005.

The employment rate recorded showed variations in different specialized areas in different degrees. The B.Sc. agriculture graduates have opportunities to specialize in different subject areas within the field of agriculture. Given below are some of the common areas in which the graduates are specialized and their employment rates recorded in the years surveyed.

When looking at the employment rate of graduates of different disciplines, it is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion with the data presented in 2005, since most of these graduates are employed as "graduate trainees" under the government recruitment scheme.

However, by looking at the data in 2004 and 2003 surveys we can say that the graduates specialized in the areas of Agriculture Biology, Crop Science, Soil Science and Agriculture Engineering had low employment rate.

According to the results, it was observed that the lowest employment rate was recorded for the graduates who specialized in the area of Earth Resources and Mining followed by the field of Chemical and Process Engineering.

The Electronic and Telecommunication field also had a low employment rate in the year 2003, but has increased in the years 2004 and 2005. This may be due to the expansion of the telecommunication field, especially the mobile phone sector in the country.

Though a higher rate of demand was recorded for the graduates specialized in the textile and clothing technology sector in 2003 in the country, it had declined to some extent in 2004, but again had increased in 2005.

The Science graduates are of two types. Some undergraduates read their degree only for three years and obtain B.Sc. general degree while some start a special degree course after the first year or the second year in the selected area and obtain a B.Sc. special degree after spending 4 years in the university. The job opportunities for these two types of degrees vary considerably.
The graduates specialized in the areas such as Computer Science, Statistics, and Industrial Management have a high demand in the job market. The graduates specialized in the areas such as Chemistry, Physics and Botany also have a good demand in the job market.

The graduates specialized in some subjects areas such as Geology, Zoology, etc., has less opportunities in the job market than other areas. There are several other subject areas viz., Pharmacy, Biotechnology, Molecular Biology etc., that are not mentioned in figures in this report due to the fact that the number of students specialized in these areas are still low compared to others.

However, it should also be mentioned, that even though the number of graduates specialized in these subjects areas was low, there is still a low demand for them in the labour market in the country.

According to the responses received, only 50percent got relevant local employments though the areas of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology have a big demand in the modern world. It is noted that more than 50percent of the graduates in these areas are employed as the academics in the universities or working as Research Assistants mainly in the universities.

This shows that the industrial sector in the country has still not moved into the areas like Biotechnology and Molecular Biology in Sri Lanka in the expected manner.

Therefore, the relevant authorities may seriously consider creating job opportunities in these fields in collaboration with the industrial sector, which is one challenge that needs immediate attention. This situation will otherwise lead to aggravate the external Brain Drain.

Sector of Employment

The sector of employment was categorized as government, semi-government, private and other Non government organization (NGOs). When looking at the sector of employment during the years surveyed, it can clearly be seen that in 1999 (59.6 percent) and 2005 (64 percent) a higher number of graduates were employed in the public sector (government and semi-government sector) employments.

Generally, most of the fresh graduates were employed in the junior management level (42 percent) and non-executive level (39 percent) jobs.

A few mentioned that they worked in the middle management and senior management level jobs, of which it was noted that many were engineering graduates while other graduates had been already employed when they read for the degrees with study leave or no pay leave.
When considering the sector of employment, there is a distinct difference. A moderately higher proportion of the graduates was attached to the government sector and employed in the non-executive level (53 percent), while a higher proportion (78 percent) of graduates were employed in the executive level in the private sector.

When considering the gender of the employed graduates and their management level, it was noted that a higher proportion (~70 percent) of employed graduates in the executive capacity were males, especially in the private sector.

Salary level of the graduates

In regard to the salaries earned by graduates of different degrees, most of the (55 percent) B.Sc. agriculture graduates earned salaries between Rs.10,001-15,000 in year 2005 while 50 percent of B.Sc. general science graduates also earned a salary between Rs.10,001-15,000.

Only about 24 percent of B.Sc. special science graduates earn salary between Rs. 10,001-15,000 while another 24percent earned between Rs. 15,000-20,000. B.Sc. engineering graduates earn more than the other graduates and 30percent of them earns between Rs. 15,001-30,000 while 30percent earns a salary above Rs.30,000.

Obstacles faced by the S&T graduates in finding employments

When finding an employment, the biggest obstacle faced by them is the lack of experience or professional qualifications sought by the employers.

The graduates stated that in general, it was very difficult to find employments in the areas they were qualified. The inadequate knowledge in English, IT, management and administration etc., also was a disadvantage in finding jobs. There seems to be a bias to some extent in regard to schools attended, universities passed out from, age, gender, etc.., when finding better employments.

To overcome these obstacles, a few recommendations are mentioned below based on the suggestions made by S&T graduates who responded to these surveys, non-responded graduates who were interviewed, perceptions of employers of S&T graduates and finally, the observations of the research team.

The relevant authorities of the university S&T education may consider diversification of education system taking the following in to consideration.

i. Introduce new methodologies to enhance skills in written and spoken English as well as knowledge in information technology.

It will be also useful to offer short optional courses in the areas such as science and research management, business administration, public relations etc. This approach will help the S&T graduates in getting familiar with the office environments and also to face challenges in relation to their future employments.

ii. Change from the classroom type teaching techniques to more practical and self learning approaches. Opportunities must be explored for S&T undergraduates to follow short-term training programmes in the industrial sector or in the public sector institutions.

This will help them to improve their managerial skills. It is emphasized here that some universities (i.e. Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya and Sabaragamuwa etc.,) have already taken measures to provide industrial training to undergraduates and the students find it very useful and advantageous in finding employments after graduation.

It will also help them to meet prospective employers, especially in the private sector.

iii. Introduce career guidance programmes by liaising with relevant authorities in the early years of the undergraduates and eventually, they will be aware of what is expected from them in the job market.

iv. Prepare undergraduates, through various approaches, to perform well at the interviews for jobs, especially at a time that they have to compete with the graduates having foreign degrees.
Many employers of S&T graduates were of the view that local graduates have a very good subject knowledge but they are less prepared to the competitive job market (i.e. to face challenges, reluctance to be independent, not much involved in extra curricular activities, poor skills in spoken and written in English, and no adequate knowledge in IT, etc..)

v. Provide adequate opportunities to the university academic staff to under go necessary training and update their knowledge in the new directions that have a high demand for guiding the S&T undergraduates.

Finally, it may be emphasized, that the study series clearly indicated that the S&T graduate employment rate generally depends on the government policies adopted on the recruitment for jobs from time to time. Strengthening and expansion of employment opportunities for the S&T graduates in the private sector becomes most important at this juncture.

(The writers are of the Science and Technology Policy Research Division, National Science Foundation, Colombo 7)

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