Motivating the youth | Sunday Observer

Motivating the youth

12 February, 2023

No one wants to grow old. We wish that we could be young as long as we live. That is the power of youth, which some say is the best time of your life. It is the most productive period of our lives and the most energetic. There really is no standard definition of what youth is, but we generally believe that someone aged 15-30 can be considered as a youth. In politics and some other fields, even 35 is considered a youthful age.

There are currently nearly two billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. Political instability, labour market challenges and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth in many societies. Wars and conflicts have decimated the youth population in many countries – we have experienced this ourselves.

Youth, the future

We have often heard the phrase “youth are the future” both locally and internationally. Youth must be given their due place and opportunities to prosper in education, employment and other spheres. The consequences of not doing so can often be devastating, as Sri Lankans found during two youth insurrections in the South in 1971 and 1988-89. Although the marginalisation of youth was not the main cause for the conflict in the North, it too played a part. Thus we have paid heavily for neglecting the aspiration of youth.

The youth need to be motivated to climb up the ladder of life. They also need guidance and counsel in some cases. With Valentine’s Day coming up, there is a wide debate in the media about how the youth deal with romance. Several recent incidents have shocked the society, with experts pointing out the need for wider access to psychological help and counselling for youth who experience an emotional rollercoaster ride as a result of their love affairs. The gruesome killing of a female university student by her lover, also a university student, has highlighted a glaring lacuna in society.

Love is unfortunately a bit of a taboo subject in this country and there is often no dialogue among parents and their sons and daughters about this subject. If this boy had opened up about his feelings with his parents or a guardian, chances are that this murder could have been prevented. Love is a natural feeling at this age, but some can go to extremes as this case has highlighted. Thus a healthy dialogue between parents and children, even adult children, is essential to keep problems at bay.

Don’t lose hope

Today, due to the economic crisis that prevails in this country, many youth have apparently lost hope and are trying to migrate either for employment or for permanent residency. This is where we need a greater dose of motivation from our educators and other professionals. It is essential to create more educational and high-paying job opportunities for the youth so that they will be motivated to stay back and serve their Motherland. There are many private higher educational institutions in Sri Lanka that offer degrees that are recognised worldwide. Many private sector companies, especially in the IT sector, have pegged their employees’ salaries to the US Dollar, which has so far prevented an exodus of youth qualified in IT.

The other most important factor is upgrading school and university curricula to reflect the needs of the times. OECD surveys suggest that both employers and youth consider that many graduates are ill-prepared for the world of work. This is especially so in Sri Lanka, where many graduates have not followed courses that have any relevance to job market requirements. One reason for rising youth unemployment, which affects all regions around the world, is this mismatch between the skills workers can offer and the skills which are in demand. This is known as structural unemployment.

This is prevalent in Sri Lanka as well. If you glance through the vacancies sections of this newspaper, thousands of jobs are advertised, but some ads are repeated week after week, apparently because the employers cannot find suitable job takers. In other words, many people in the job market do not have the skills that employers need. Sri Lanka is probably the only country which has an “Unemployed Graduates Association”. This situation could have been avoided if the degree courses were relevant to the employment trends.


The crucial role that quality education plays in youth development and empowerment is well recognised. In addition, comprehensive youth development benefits society-at-large. However, what is less known is the fact that young people themselves are active champions of inclusive and accessible education. For example, youth-led organisations can transform education via lobbying and advocacy, partnerships with educational institutions and the development of complementary training programs. Many youth have got motivated to participate in these programs.

There should be a firm focus on skills development among both young males and females. It is vital to motivate young girls and women to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, which will encourage them to venture into the more male dominated sectors such as motor mechanism/car repair, heavy vehicle/earthmoving equipment operations, welding and air-conditioning. Conversely, males too should be encouraged to take up sewing/tailoring, nursing, cookery and other vocations. Sri Lanka already has a good structure for vocational training, with technical colleges around the island and a central Vocational Training Authority (VTA). There is a national NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) certification system that is accepted in most countries.

Unemployment and poverty are two social evils. If the youth are motivated to get the right skills, they will get jobs and become self-reliant and many problems in society will be solved. Gainfully employed youth will also not turn to drugs, vice and crime. Parents and teachers should also encourage and motivate students who display a talent for skills and subjects other than textbook studies.

If a youngster displays a knack for repairing radios, let him or her continue. The school is the obvious place to start job hunting. There are three approaches – vocational subjects, education fairs and job fairs. Vocational subjects should be taught to all students, irrespective of whether they will eventually take to a vocation. Education fairs obviously focus on higher educational opportunities here and abroad, other than the State universities. By participating in these fairs, students gain an idea of what skills and qualifications are needed to find a job.

English language fluency

It is also essential to motivate youngsters to learn English and at least one other foreign language such as Chinese, French, German and Spanish. In Sri Lanka, it is virtually difficult to find a job that does not require a good knowledge of English. This is indeed why some private companies prefer school leavers who can speak good English over university graduates who are not very fluent in the language.

English, though not essentially a vocational subject, must be taught to all aspiring job seekers. Our policymakers as well as our youth must also be aware of three more challenges – Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation/robotics and digitilisation. But these can be opportunities too – with the right motivation, there will be jobs in these sectors as human inputs are still needed. Nevertheless, these trends are likely to take some skilled jobs away. The key is to identify sectors where automation or digitalisation will not make much of a difference even in the future. The youth must also be veered away from the evils of drugs, alcohol and tobacco in order to ensure a healthy next generation.

They should be encouraged to lead active lifestyles to prevent the spread of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes. Here again, the need to stay healthy can be a major motivating factor. The issues discussed in this article are just the tip of the iceberg and we will discuss more ideas for motivating the youth next week.