Job training for young people in Sri Lanka


Employment training – progress report – January 2013


We are in the midst of another cohort of trainees for the Hospitality course, which started 22nd October.  We had 9 out of 10 students completed the months classroom training.  One dropped out due to a health issue. The course leaders were very impressed with the dedication and effort of the trainees who learnt quickly and showed real interest in what they were doing.

The trainees are now on placements at various Hotels, all have been offered work.  Although for some this is on a ‘’daily rate’’ of Rs800 plus food (which actually isn’t that bad) , never the less this work would not have been available to them before the training so we are thrilled that they have improved their skills and now have the  confidence to seek employment.

Two of the trainees, Sanjeevan and Budeema, have been working at the Shappire Hotel in Colombo for four months, they stated that they were happy in their roles and had learnt a lot.  This is the first time that either have worked full-time.  Sanjeevan, aged 23, has not had a job since finishing his O levels at 16.  Budeema, aged 22, had only ever worker temporarily before in a shop that sells plastic items.  Both appeared confident in their surroundings and proud of their achievements.  They were a delight to meet!

Hair and Beauty

There is also another group of 15 young women engaged in the Hair and Beauty course, which started in November. Two dropped out early on but have been replaced with others who were keen to start. All the students appeared committed and confident, and the training team have remained extremely dedicated to the programme and the students.

The trainees have completed the first month of the course at the centre in Athidiya prior to Christmas break.  They came to the training salon in Colombo for the first time in December where a Christmas party was held for them by Cheryl, the proprietor of the training academy. The trainees will start attending training sessions in the academy from January.  The training team are pleased with the trainees progress and commitment.  They are enthusiastic and keen to learn and have developed good relationships amongst themselves and with the trainers.

Nishanthi completed the course in September she has now set up a salon in her home. She has signs up the local area which look very professional and has dressed several people for weddings.  She even buys in extra help employing a fellow trainee when necessary.  Her plan is to build a proper salon on land near her house once she gets approval from the local government. Prior to the course she was a housewife and had never worked.


Learning Lessons and Assessing  Impact

We continue to monitor the progress of trainees and offer support where we can, although a high number of students initially got work a number have dropped out.  For many regular work is a new phenomenon and rather a culture shock.  Travelling into the city, the long hours, having to wait to the end of the month to receive a salary, are just some of the aspects which have taken some of the trainees by surprise.  

However it is clear from having monitored the progress of those who have completed or currently undergoing employment training that although some are not in full-time work or working in other industries not directly related to the course they took, the training has had multiple benefits to those involved.  For example, there has been a dramatic transformation in the hair and beauty trainees who were part of the fist cohort.  The training is of course not a ‘magic solution’ to finding permanent work but has given them all a new found confidence and pride that they were able to develop a skill. In addition it has opened their eyes to a world outside their immediate community and helped them develop their own aspirations and hope for the future.  This is highlighted by one of the young women who took part in the course who gave an impromptu thank you speech at the graduation ceremony.  Not only would she never have dreamed of being able to speak in front of a room full of people but she was able to articulate well about how the course had opened her eyes to a life beyond what she had been living up to them.  She had also felt supported by the trainers and this has clearly done wonders for her self esteem and confidence.  We continue to monitor those who have taken part in the training course to look at the long-term impact of the training and how we can learn lessons for the future.

To All Our Supporters.

Lastly, Thanks to you for your donations and support. Without ordinary people like you joining in, none of this would have been possible. You really did make a difference!!


Katherine de Kretser & Stephen Bynon

January 2013


Over the past 3 months the trainees to the Hair and Beauty Training have been eagerly attending and picking up new skills. The course led by the CG Hairdressing Academy started in the Asha Centre in Athidiya, as we were aware that many of the 14 trainees were not confident about travelling into Colombo. After a few weeks they were encouraged to attend the CG Academy one day a week. The Academy has much better facilities and are able to offer a wider curriculum. Within a short time the had grown in confidence and they were happy to attend the academy every day.

One of the exciting things for the young women was the filming of the hair and beauty trainees in the Academy for a television show which was aired in Sri Lanka on 'Derana TV'.

The trainees have now completed the course and there was an event to celebrate their success. Katherine, Asha trust local worker says “It was a lovely occasion at the centre in Athidiya with a welcome speech by Sister Concepta followed by the certificate giving and of course a piece or two of celebratory cake! Two of the ‘graduates’ also made an impromptu thank you speech and what they said really highlights how successful the training has been. They talked of how the training had changed their lives for the better and that the support and love that was given to them by the trainers made their confidence increase and realise their self-worth. They also talked of how they can now see a bright future and realise that there is another way to how they have been living up to now”.

With the help of Cheryl., the Director of the CG Hairdressing, 7 have already got jobs in good hair salons in Colombo, all have a good starting salary and excellent prospects. The remaining women are working from home with their new skills. All have already had paying customers! It will be interesting to speak to the students in the next few months and see how their plans have developed. Cheryl is also keen to keep in contact with the trainees and support them in the future if they wish.

Katherine says “I think it is no exaggeration when I say that I can see the change in these young people myself. They are brimming with confidence, have plans for the future and realistic aspirations. So on behalf of all the women who graduated, thank you to all those who supported this project – you have made a real difference to these women's lives!”

There is already a group of young women interested in taking part in the next Hair and Beauty course, which we hope will start in October.

Graduation Ceremony
Graduation Ceremony

The restaurant and hotel trainees have finished their course! All the young people passed the exam and received a certificate at a graduation ceremony on 21st May this was attended by parents and friends, the local mayor and the course leaders. One of the restaurants in the partnership provided a meal for all the guests and there was pride in the young peoples achievement. They have all been given job offers - some have even had multiple offers! 

Inour last report we mentioned that Cheryl Goonaratne was keen to offer a further training course for the young people in this challenging community. Cheryl runs a well established Hair and Beauty Academy in Colombo and she and her team have recently started a programme for 14 young women from Athidiya. Learning from our experience with the hotel school where some young women were initially uneasy about leaving their immediate community, the first weeks of thisnew course will be delivered from the new Asha Centre in Athidiya itself. Once relationships have been established, we anticipate that the families will be more confident about allowing the young women to take the bus to the training salon in Colombo. Cheryll is confident that all the trainees will be offered work in reputable salons.

The Hair and Beauty course will last 3 months. For those who choose it, there will be an opportunity to secure work in successful salons in the smartest district in Colombo. Others have childcare and other caring commitments, and may prefer to set up their own micro-enterprise, working from home. The course will enable them to choose either path. All the young women on the course have been unemployed for some time; some have never worked since leaving school. Many of these young people have been very keen on learning a trade, but up to now have had little opportunity.

Thank you so much for all your support - it is making a huge difference to these young women.

First day of Hair and Beauty course
First day of Hair and Beauty course
First Day of Training
First Day of Training

Athidiya is a challenging community close to Colombo. Its a place filled with multiple and complex needs. Job prospects for young people in Athidiya are poor. Employment is the most effective route out of poverty: a good job will provide these young people a stable income and the potential for career progression, which could help to lift their whole family out of poverty.

We have been looking for ways of providing vocational training, for those who may not succeed at school Thanks to the Girl Effect who has provided funding and Harpo Goonaratna a successful entrepreneur with several up-market restaurants, we have embarked on this exciting initiative which has the potential to transform the lives of these young people and they families.

Harpo has recently set up a Hotel and Hospitality school, we have worked with him and his team to develop a project offering training in hospitality and tourism for youngsters from Athidiya. The programme consists of 4 weeks classroom training and 8 weeks placement at a hotel or restaurant.. At the end they will be offered an interview, either in Harpo’s business, or with another reputable employer.

In January Shyla traveled to Sri Lanka and met the trainers form Harpos & Harvard School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. She joined them at one of the two registration days within Athidiya. As a result there were 18 young people on the first course, 8 of which are young women.

The trainees have now completed their classroom phase, and are on their placements at hotels. Things are going well, most of the young people have settled into their placements and within two weeks, one young woman was offered a permanent job by her hotel. Lalitha, a young woman who we’ve known for years, is working at a 5* restaurant in Mount Lavinia. She has been snapped up by the hotel, who has offered her a permanent job even before she completes her training. Her father is a vegetable seller and her mother works only occasionally, and she tells me they are very pleased at her securing a good job. She now wants to train to become a manager within the hotel!. Harpo and the team who run the programme were confident that all who complete the programme will be offered good jobs.

Unfortunately a few young people’s attendance has been sporadic since the group separated after the initial classroom training and they were placed in separate hotels. We did know the level of commitment required on this programme would be challenging for these young people, who have little experience of regular work in their families. Many of their parents and neighbours have casual work – they earn by the day, very few have long term ‘’permanent ‘’ work. The team feel that the biggest issue for a number of these young people is that their parents are not able to offer them the kind of support they need to persevere when the going gets tough.

The poor attenders have been visited, and encouraged. They have all promised to be more regular and the local team will continue to motivate the few that are struggling .

However, most are doing well, and want to complete the programme successfully. Pilla is at the Concorde Hotel in Colombo, and his manager insists he is learning fast, but needs to trim his hair! It’s all very strict. Pilla’s father used to work as a tailor, but became ill and is no longer able to work. His mother is a carer and the family only manage because his older sister has gone to the Middle East as a domestic worker, and remits money to support the family.

We have realised that our training programme for employment in the hotel and restaurant business is not always appealing to young women (and less so to some of their parents) One of the suggestions for addressing this problem is to explore another industry, perhaps hair and beauty. We are a little hesitant to embrace a stereotype, but also are aware that many schools and colleges in the UK have found that hair and beauty courses enthuse some of the most disengaged young women . One of the team was introduced to the woman who runs one of the most successful hair and beauty schools in the country. She trains about 75 young women a year, and everyone has secured a good job with one of the large, reputable salons in Colombo. There appears to be a real shortage of well-trained staff for the industry. This entrepreneur states she has been looking for a way to “give back”, to do something meaningful with her business. Having achieved commercial success, she now longs to ‘’make a real difference’’. She is keen to take on a cohort of our young women. Its early days, but very exciting.

None of this would have been possible if not for the Girl Effect and the support of ordinary people - it’s making an extra-ordinary difference to some young lives.

Lalitha at work
Lalitha at work

The Job-Training Project for young people from Athidiya, a highly deprived community outside Colombo, has the potential to transform life-chances for young women like 18 year old Shamila.  Shamila  is bright, energetic and displays great leadership – even when she was 12 and 13, she was the one who organized the younger children, helped put on the Christmas Show, spoke up when visitors came and helped with translation.  Her single-parent mother had been young when Shamila was born, but did later get married and Shamila helped  to look after her younger sisters while her mother sought occasional work as a cleaner.  But her relationship with her stepfather has always been difficult.   He works as a day-labourer, hoping each day to secure some work on a building site.

As part Asha Trust’s support for the community, we have provided Shamila’s school with classroom resources and a breakfast club which has meant she was making good progress.  Yet life in deprived communities is often challenging, and when she was 16, a crisis in the family meant  Shamila had to leave school. She did not sit her O levels and had to get a job.  Since jobs are rarely advertised  in Sri Lanka, she was dependent on the  contacts her family and neighbours had to get her first job.  They did their best and helped her to get a job in a small factory, doing a menial job and earning less than $50 per month with no prospects for training or advancement.  

It is this cycle that our Job-Training Project seeks to break.

Thanks to your generous support, we are able to offer Shamila and others  like her the chance to apply for a vocational training course in the hospitality and tourism sector, which is one of Sri Lanka’s major employers but remains closed to young people who don’t know anyone who can help to get them that crucial introduction.  Trainees will gain a recognized qualification, practical experience and an introduction to potential employers in high quality hotels and restaurants.  We anticipate that young people like Shamila will be able to earn a regular salary, bringing some financial security to her family. By securing a job with a reputable employer outside her immediate community, she will also be able to introduce others to the hospitality industry.

On 18 January the Asha Trust team and the course leaders will interview young  people who have expressed an interest in this programme.  More than qualifications or skills, the panel are looking for young people who are determined and hard-working, willing to travel the 5 miles to the capital city to work in unfamiliar surroundings.  We will limit this first cohort to 15, so that we can monitor each trainee’s progress carefully and keep you updated.  Once the first group complete the three month course, we will evaluate the programme and make any changes needed before rolling it out further.   

Many thanks for your donation.  We will update you once the selection process is complete and the trainees begin the programme.

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Project Leader

Shyla Bynon

London, London United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Job training for young people in Sri Lanka