Hop on the blue bus and find the pathway not only to a career but also on how to acquire the skills that are needed to make that a reality. The tale of the blue bus which is going round and round in Sri Lanka and more recently in the north is as much intertwined [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Find a career on a blue bus to the north

A collaboration between Sri Lanka and Germany, the mobile Career Guidance Unit, is on course to give youth in war-torn areas a chance to enter a state-of-the-art training Institute in Kilinochchi

Hop on the blue bus and find the pathway not only to a career but also on how to acquire the skills that are needed to make that a reality.

The tale of the blue bus which is going round and round in Sri Lanka and more recently in the north is as much intertwined with the strong Sri Lanka-German ties reaching back in time to the yesterdays of the 1950s, as providing hope of a tomorrow to young people in areas which have experienced conflict for 30 years. (See box)

As the blue bus which houses a mobile Career Guidance Unit — set on its tracks last year — makes numerous voluntary stops at schools, community centres and temples not just in towns but also remote villages, it has acted as a channel in the north to guide youth to eight satellite centres providing vocational training to prepare them for advanced training at a state-of-the-art Sri Lanka-German Training Institute being constructed in Kilinochchi.

All this is happening under the Vocational Training In the North Project (VT-North) that was launched in 2012 by the German International Cooperation (GIZ or Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit) in collaboration with the Youth Affairs and Skills Development Ministry.

“The Kilinochchi institute which is due to be opened at the end of next year is being modelled on the very successful institute at Ratmalana which all those who have passed through it affectionately call ‘German Tech’,” explains GIZ Senior Advisor Kumudhini Rosa, recalling that GIZ was earlier known as the GTZ.

The VT-North Project is being implemented by GIZ and the German development bank (Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau – KfW) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development with the other Sri Lankan partner being the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA).

It is in the run-up to the International Conference on Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) with the theme ‘Enhancement of Skills for Social Integration, Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development’ to be held on July 15 & 16 at the Galadari Hotel to coincide with National Skills Day that the Sunday Times gets a glimpse into what has been happening in this arena in the north.
Building on a solid foundation of a market survey done among the people and government and private sector organizations to find out what career areas were demand driven.

Initially, guidance is given to those who seek help in identifying vocational training courses and job options, said Ms. Rosa, adding that if they are unsure about the path they wish to follow, they can take part in a career-interest test which will take into account their skills and aspirations and nudge them towards suitable jobs. They are also given information on training institutes and potential employers.
Going “technical”, GIZ Technical Advisor Ganeshamoorthy Jegan says that there is a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Framework which has Levels from 1 to 7, which is recognized not only in Sri Lanka but also internationally. While anyone who completes Levels 1 to 4 will secure a certificate, Level 5 will get a diploma, Level 6 an advanced diploma and Level 7 a qualification on par with a degree in the chosen trade.

The Kilinochchi institute, once set up, will enable the students who are undergoing vocational training in selected trades to obtain Levels 4, 5 and 6 of the NVQ. The trades are mechanical engineering automotive technology; construction technology; electrical and electronic technology including solar technology; and food processing technology, the Sunday Times learns.

“To be ready for Level 4 of the NVQ, several batches of northern youth are already undergoing Levels 1 to 3 at partner institutes which the VT-North Project is supporting,” says Mr. Jegan.

The partner organisations are NAITA Phase I Training Centre, Vocational Training Authority (VTA) and Don Bosco in the Kilinochchi district; (VTA) in the Mullaitivu district; Don Bosco in the Mannar district; Don Bosco and the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped (ORHAN) in the Vavuniya district; and VTA in the Jaffna district.

“We want to bring into the vocational training fold not only men but also women and the disabled,” stresses Mr. Jegan, adding that when the students complete their institutional training they are found placements for ‘on-the-job training’ relevant to their field. Some find their niche and get absorbed into those companies.

MAS Holdings, Abans, Cargills, Lanka Ashok Leyland, Sampath Motors and some offices of Divisional Secretaries, the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and the Health Department have opened their doors to these trainees.

It is also not just “work” for the students but some “play” as well and in the early stages, if traumatized due to living in a conflict-affected area, counselling is also provided if necessary, it is understood.

‘Young and Diverse’ is a sports and cultural event held each year to bring together youth from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds from around the country, while ‘exposure visits’, away from their home areas to other regions including Colombo widen their horizons, says Mr. Jegan, citing the example of the warm welcome extended to the students by Ven. Chandrasiri Thera and the Daham Pasel children when they visited the Mahindaramaya temple in Rajagiriya.

The messenger on wheels

Re-hauled and equipped with computers and videos, ‘22 Sri 2405’ brought to Sri Lanka 58 years ago is the messenger attracting the youth from the grassroots to vocational training and jobs.

In the initial stages of the VT-North Project launched in June 2012, vocational training opportunities were announced through banners and notices at grama sevaka offices and drew only about 37 students, it is understood.

The numbers have jumped soon after the bus with the ‘destination’ — ‘Plan your career with us’ began plying off the beaten track. Spilling forth actors from Parakrama Niriella’s Janakaraliya to perform street dramas to further drive home the message and welcoming both youth and their parents onto the bus to check out opportunities. The 156 currently undergoing training at the NAITA Phase I Centre in Kilinochchi and the Don Bosco Centre at Vavuniya provide proof of success. Sixty-four others are undergoing on-the-job training.

The bus had been part of a fleet from Mercedes Benz that the then Central Transport Board (CTB) imported in 1956 from Germany. The imports had been followed by the setting up of the Automobile Mechanical Training Institute with German help to carry out repairs on these buses, followed hot on its heels by the Ceylon-German Technical Training Institute (German Tech) at Ratmalana.

A couple of buses from the original fleet are still in running condition, smiles Ms. Rosa, citing the case of one under the Kurunegala SLTB depot which plies to Nittambuwa.

However, it is the bus owned by the Diesel and Motor Engineering Company (DIMO), which represents the Mercedes Benz company, which has readily loaned it for two years to transmogrify into the novel mobile Career Guidance Unit.

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