Switzerland and the United States Team Up to Up Skill Sri Lanka’s Migrant Workers

Sri Lanka’s migrant workers have contributed enormously to the country’s economy, yet opportunities for them to advance their careers have been limited. To remedy this, the governments of Switzerland and the USA have joined hands to initiate the Skilled and Resilient Migrant Workers (SRMW) project and give migrant workers the career guidance and skills development they urgently want and need.

The SRMW project combines the strengths of USAID’s youth skills development and entrepreneurship project, YouLead, specialists in career guidance and vocational skills development, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), who work to improve the overall safety and well-being of migrant workers.

Launched in Colombo on March 2, 2021 by Ambassador Dr. Dominik Furgler of Switzerland and Ambassador Alaina Teplitz of the United States, SRMW is designed to make overseas employment safer and more rewarding by providing better occupational information and by increasing the skill levels of Sri Lankans going abroad for work. It will also help reintegrate returning workers by assessing their capabilities and linking them to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in Sri Lanka. With more than 50,000 migrant workers returning to Sri Lanka due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SRMW project comes at a very critical time as many returnees have very few employment prospects.

According to research conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Sri Lanka’s remittances from migrant workers in 2017 were a massive US$7.19 billion (approximately 63% of total export earnings and 9% of GDP). However, despite their considerable contributions, most migrant workers are in low-skilled jobs, which makes it difficult for them to reintegrate into the country’s workforce when they return. This is especially true for female migrant workers.

In Sri Lanka, though unemployment is on the rise, skilled workers in industries such as construction are in short supply. To open up these opportunities to returning migrant workers, SRMW will evaluate their capabilities, get them a formal vocational qualification, and link them to employers seeking skilled workers. This also has the potential to make future outward migration safer and better paid in the future, fuel the country’s economy through increased remittances, and promote long-term growth when workers apply their improved skills in Sri Lanka.

YouLead’s SRMW project team is geared to take on the challenge of serving the needs of large numbers of returning migrant workers with a focus on women and the skillsets that will help them re-enter the workforce. Through its strong relationships with the private sector and training organizations, YouLead is well placed to make a significant impact on the lives of these hardworking Sri Lankans.

The United States and Switzerland have provided economic and humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka for more than 70 years, including more than US$2 billion dollars towards development projects.

YouLead is an $18 million project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. IESC implements the project in partnership with international partner Global Communities along with local partners the American Chamber of Commerce, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Skills for Life, and Verité Research.

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