Sri Lanka can be viewed as a land of opportunity. It is known as “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean” with beauty, hospitality, and opportunity abounding. Sri Lanka’s rapidly growing economy and upscale and vastly increasing tourist market provide numerous opportunities for training for locals and international companies alike.
Overall, Sri Lanka is developing quickly with massive building of high-end hotels, condominiums, and office buildings in the major cities and tourist destinations. It is becoming a destination for foreigners to move and retire to, and is attracting multinationals to develop businesses, especially in agriculture and mining. Along with the growth in the cities, service, restaurant, and related businesses are developing. There currently is a shortage of skilled workers to support these growing industries, as well as the expanding tourist industry, which is showing more than 10 percent annual growth, with 2 million-plus tourists arriving in 2017 (http://www.sltda.lk/node/757). This is opening an array of opportunities for business development and tourist-related services and the related training to enable high-quality service, such as hotel and restaurant management, international cooking, construction, architecture, safety, and ISO quality standards.
CULTURAL AND SKILLS GAPS
The Sri Lankan economy is in a state of growth, but wages, for the most part, are still low compared to the rising cost of living. Foreigners coming in as experts to lead their companies often are well paid compared to the overall economy. However, they are faced with a cultural gap, especially when it comes to management; creativity; teamwork and complex thinking; and how to engage their Sinhala, Tamil, and foreign workers. Intercultural issues are a challenge for many leaders.
Local training companies, working in three languages of the island—English, Sinhala, and Tamil —are faced with stiff competition for technical and basic skills training. International and large corporate players tend to prefer hiring international training companies and trainers from abroad. English is the primary delivery language.
Approximately a quarter of a million Sri Lankans leave to work abroad every year, attracted by higher wages and the promise of a brighter future. With the current growth in the local economy, there are indicators that these semi-skilled workers will seek training and work locally. Generally, their language skills are limited to Sinhala or Tamil. But there seems to be an increasing demand for language development, including business English, Mandarin, Japanese, German, and other European languages; plus IT engineering and software development.
Currently, there is a shortage of leadership, management, construction, technical, and business development skills. Companies also are looking for soft skills—such as communication, project management, complex thinking, customer service and retention, workforce productivity, market development, and creativity (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/080615/FinancialTimes/ft310.html).
Sri Lankans tend to prefer certifications from nationally and internationally recognized government or institutional bodies. Even a weekend workshop typically will grant a certificate of qualification.
CHANGING LEADERSHIP STYLES
Traditionally, most Sri Lankan companies have been family owned. Many of these firms currently are experiencing the passing of the leadership baton from parent to child or are merging with international companies to address competition and market demands. The change in leadership and rapid growth is compelling CEOs and HR professionals to rethink leadership styles and look for ways to maintain high productivity, engagement, and output while reducing their own stress level and that of their employees. Mindfulness; personal coaching; and facilitative, experiential training that addresses current and future business needs is increasingly in demand. The style of training is shifting from lecture to facilitative/experiential, with follow-up coaching for management and leadership.
Sri Lanka is filled with business possibilities. But it is advisable to be cautious in entering partnerships and contracts. Work with reputable companies and check with the Chamber of Commerce (https://chamber.lk) before signing on the dotted line.
Sandy Weiner, MCC, MED, BA, is a Master Certified Coach, Supervisor, and Gestalt Organizational Development Psychologist with specialties in employing collaborative techniques, post-merger integration, mindfulness as a way of life, and use of rapid integration techniques. A senior associate with Global Dynamics, Inc., she spent five years learning Buddhism, meditation, and mindfulness, and growing to understand the Sri Lankan culture. Weiner has worked to integrate East and West German cultures, and has trained and consulted in numerous countries and cultures. She can be reached at e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 305.682.7883.