The working age population, labour force, economically-active population, economically-inactive population, potential labour force, employment, underemployment, main and second job, and unemployment, are key determinants of labour supply. Information on these aspects have been compiled by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) on a quarterly and annual basis since 1990 through the Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey (SLFS). The SLFS provides detailed information on characteristics of the labour force such as age sex and education qualification. This information is necessary to understand the supply side of the labour market, which is essential to fully understand the labour market situation in the country. However, there has been a lack of information on the demand side of the labour market. Therefore, the DCS conducted its first ever Enterprise Labour Demand Survey (ELDS) in July 2017, and the report containing the key findings of the ELDS, was released recently, in less than seven months.
Enterprise Labour Demand Survey
The need for conducting ELDS – 2017, was driven by the recognition of the importance of ensuring adequate and reliable information on the fit between the skills and competencies of the workforce, on one hand, and the requirements of employers on the other. There was also the concern of a mismatch between the availability of and the demand for skills. This can negatively impact the level of employment and productivity in the workplace.
Specifically, the objective of the ELDS was to gather more information from businesses about their workforce, nature of their business, recruitment patterns, vacancies, hard to fill positions, and training for employees. ELDS – 2017 includes a detailed disaggregation by occupations, hiring patterns, difficult to find skills, and some comparisons of first time job-seekers with different educational backgrounds. Disaggregation of occupation in labour market data in a standardized manner is essential in the analysis of labour market data. Therefore, the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-2008) was used to classify occupations in this survey.
According to the findings of the Economic Census 2013/14, there are little over one million private sector economic units in the country. Among those, there are 189,000 economic units with more than three employees. ELDS – 2017 was carried out a survey of 3,500 enterprises from across the country. The sample was selected using stratified random sampling technique, to ensure that all categories of enterprises are included in the sample and that it is nationally representative. A structured questionnaire was used to gather and record the data from the enterprises.
Information gathered in this survey were of three types: characteristics of the current stock of employment, labour demand or unfilled vacancies, and the number to be recruited within the next twelve months. This information was collected (a) to ascertain the distribution of workers by key demographics, educational attainment, occupation, skill type, and work experience, (b) to examine the unfiled vacancies by type of occupation and sector, in order to identify employment opportunities in the private enterprises, and (c) to ascertain the extent to which employers experience difficulty in recruiting appropriate staff to fill vacancies. Information gathered on recruitment drive during the next 12 months provide opportunity not only to identify employment opportunities in the short-term, but also to adjust educational and training programs offered by different institutions.
Employment by sector and age group
The estimated total number of employees in the private sector is approximately five million. The leading categories are the service and sales workers (28.8 percent), elementary cccupations (16.9 percent), plant and machine operators and assemblers (14.6 percent), clerical support workers (10.5 percent). These are skilled or semi-skilled worker categories. Shares reported for managers, professionals, and associated professionals were smaller; 7.8 percent, 8.6 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively.
The vast majority (59.3 percent) of employed persons in the private sector are in the age group of 25-45 years. This is followed by less than 25 years (21.2 percent) and 45-60 years (17.8 percent). Nearly two percent of the current employees in the private sector enterprises is past the retirement age of 60 years.
Preparedness of first time job seekers
The employers were asked to report the job preparedness of first-time job seekers in terms of the vocational and educational backgrounds. The first-time job-seekers possessed different vocational and educational backgrounds. The highest above average preparedness was reported for the firs-time job-seekers having university degrees with vocational training (94.7 percent) and the lowest was reported for those having only technical and vocational training (60.4 percent). The percentage vary from 67 percent to 81 percent for those having only secondary education, university degrees, secondary education or vocational training qualifications.
Problems of labour resources
The enterprises experience difficulties in filling vacancies due to lack of applicants and dissatisfaction of job seekers with the offered salary. A brief analysis on unfilled vacancies, also known as labour demand, was carried out with regard to sectors, provinces, occupations, and difficult to fill vacancies.
Enterprises were asked to report the vacancies that they have not been able to fill. The estimated labour demand was 497,300. The service sector reported the highest demand (177,813), followed by the industry sector (175,250) and the trade sector (110,770). The labour demand reported for construction, tourism, and agriculture (plantation) sectors were 20,224, 10,207, and 3,033, respectively.
The top five shortages were reported for sewing machine operators, security guards, other manufacturing labourers, shop sales assistants, and advertising and marketing professionals. Reported demand for these occupations were approximately 77,200, 57,000, 39,400, 28,200, and 21,000 respectively.
Labour demand varies widely across provinces. Of the 497,302 labour demand, the giant’s share (70 percent), was in the Western Province and the smallest share was in the Eastern Province (0.4 percent). Labour demand in different sectors also vary considerably across provinces. For example, the labour demand in the industry sector varies widely from three percent in the Eastern Province to 83.2 percent in the North-Western Province.
Labour demand in the plantation sector was mainly for tea pluckers (2,474), followed by rubber tappers (437). The demand reported for all other occupations of this sector was less than 25.
The total labour demand in the industry sector was 175,250. The majority of over 134,321 were in the formal sector and it was mainly for sewing machine operators (59,659). The same occupation had the highest demand (13,858) in the informal Industries sector also.
In the construction sector, the total demand was 20,000, almost all of it (18,000) in the formal sector. The highest demand was for building construction labourers (4,300), other manufacturing labourers (4,200), and heavy truck and lorry drivers (1000). For all other occupations, the demand was less than 900. In the informal sector, the highest demand was for building construction labourers (671) and masons (647), and it was less than 380 for all other occupations.
shop sales assistants (22,255) and advertising and marketing professionals (20,744) had the highest labour demand in the Trade sector. Shop sales assistants (4,143) were in most demand in the informal sector as well, followed by waiters (1,730).
The service has been expanding widely in the economy of Sri Lanka. This sector reported the highest labour demand. The three occupations that reported highest were security guards (56,674), commercial and sales representatives (14,360), and cleaners and helpers in office, hotels, and other establishments (13,712). In the informal, the highest demand was for hairdressers (4,182).
The survey attempted to find out the occupations for which the employers found it difficult to fill. The reported top four difficult-to-fill occupation in the formal sector were sewing machine operators, security guards, and other manufacturing labourers. The number of vacancies that they have not been able to fill were 46,576, 45,316, 31,277, and 17,568, respectively. In the informal sector the top four occupations difficult to fill, were sewing machine operators, other manufacturing labourers, creative and presenting artists and carpenters and joiners. Numbers reported were 14,667, 7,800, 3,347, and 3,229, respectively.
Difficulties in filling vacancies
The enterprises were asked why they could not fill the vacancies. One fourth of the enterprises reported that people were not willing to do the kind of jobs offered to them.
Little more than one-fifth reported the reason as competition from other employers. Other reasons given were high salary demand, low number of applicants qualified for the job, poor terms and conditions (e.g. pay) offered for post, job entails shift work/unsociable hours, remote locations (poor or no transport), seasonal or time-limited work, and others; the percentage of employers who selected those reasons were 13.5 percent, 13.5 percent, 9.5 percent, 5.2 percent, 5.1 percent, 3.4 percent, and 3.7 percent, respectively.
Plans for hiring workers
Another important area investigated in this survey was the planned recruitment drive during the next 12 months by the employers. In the formal sector, the highest number of workers (74,079) were to be recruited for the occupation of tailors, dressmakers and hatters. Next to this are commercial and sales representatives, and the expected number was 69,865. In the informal sector, the highest (22,400) number to be recruited was reported for building construction laboures.
In this survey, information was also gathered from the employers on what skills of their workers needed to be improved. Almost 40 percent of the employers identified teamwork as the skill that was most needed to be improved. Oral communication came second (30 percent), followed by being proactive (26 percent), and literacy (20 percent). advanced IT application, management responsibilities, and taking a lead, was mentioned by nine - 10 percent of the employers.
A key finding of this survey is that there is a labour demand of nearly half a million in the private sector institutions having more than three employees.
However, the Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey in 2016, has shown that there is a potential labour force of 210,480 who are not actively seeking employment, but ready work if an opportunity comes. There is also an unemployed population of 363,000. Thus, there are over half a million people who can be employed. However, to do so they need to be provided with knowledge, skills, and opportunities as identified by the employers in the ELDS reported above. By doing so, enterprises can obtain the human resource they need. Equally importantly, half a million people who are not productively engaged can be given employment. Appropriate action to bridge the disconnect between the supply and demand in the labour market can have major economic and social benefits directly affecting half a million people, and a large number of enterprises.
The report on the Enterprise Labour Demand Survey of Sri Lanka, recently released by the DCS, is an important resource to inform the planning and provisioning of vocational and training, as well as to assist individuals to make appropriate career and educational choices. The report is expected to contribute to the improvement of the responsiveness of the post-school education and training system to the needs of the economy and society more broadly, by supporting decision-making on matters pertaining to skills-planning.