National Policy on HR - the need of the hour
A National Human Resources Policy is in the offing. Human Resources
Senior Minister D E W Gunasekera said recently that an expert committee
has been working on it during the past year and the draft of the
proposed policy is now available for public inputs. The objective of the
policy, he said, is to promote the goal of full, decent and productive
employment and the optimal utilization of human resources of Sri Lanka
by improving labour market competitiveness and employability.
Senior Minister D E W Gunasekera
The senior minister also observed that the current unemployment rate
in the country is low as 4.9 percent. However he observed that studies
have revealed that even though the unemployment rate has gone down, the
poverty rate is on the rise in certain provinces such as the Uva. He
noted that 62 percent of workers are belonging to the informal sector
which is the most vulnerable group. The majority in this sector are
dropouts from schools after the O-L examination. A national policy has
been initiated to address these issues related to the country's
Management gurus generally agree that implementation of a National
Human Resource Development policy is a complex issue, with many
interrelated and competing issues. Complicating the development of sound
HRD is the fact that the goals and objectives of many participating
agencies tend to conflict, nullifying and diluting the positive impact
of their individual aims.
Nonetheless, as a developing country, we should not lose sight that
the current competitive global environment is challenging us to develop
ambitious HRD policies if we are to accomplish the goal of sustainable
human development. Additionally, appropriate resources will have to be
targeted and used for training systems for organizational development
with long-term gains in productivity that are needed in the global
First of all, the genuine recognition and acceptance by both public
and private sectors of the need for a National HRD policy should be
considered critical in the successful development of such a policy. Most
developing countries have undergone debates about it, but since the
early 2000s there has been an increased global emphasis on redefining
and refocusing the parameters of the public and private sectors with
attention to the role of the market economy and the range of civic
Particularly, the public sector has to undergo different aspects of
the change processes, such as structural adjustment at the national
level and social adjustment at the local level. These processes not only
contain issues which are difficult to resolve, but also require new
skills and capacities of public officials.
The general argument amongst the public implies that the public
sector is less effective and efficient as compared to the private
sector. Whether this argument is right or wrong, efforts to make it more
effective and efficient are advantageous.
In the public sector, managing people has traditionally been the task
of personnel administration. In the execution of the involved tasks,
personnel administration is perceived to have been regulative and
inhibitive of the human attributes. There are deficiencies created in
the application of personnel administration systems, which could be
addressable through modern human resource management strategies.
There are descriptive differences between 'personnel administration'
(in public sector) and Human Resource Management (in private sector).
In the public sector, employees are regarded as public servants and
are expected to comply with central rules; Line Managers have no
responsibility for human resource management and diversity. In the
private sector, employees are regarded as 'human beings' in the first
place and, therefore, a 'resource'. As human beings, they are
diversified and resourceful and are not necessarily expected to
dogmatically comply with rules and prescripts; they are expected to
provide professional advices and guidance in the application of
management theories and practices; Line managers are primarily
responsible management and development of human resources (HR).
Human resource management places the employee at the centre of
development and acknowledges that he is more important than policies,
rules and prescripts. Therefore, personnel administration system in the
government sector and its practices that the application of rules and
prescripts from its administrators is more crucial, requires
re-consideration towards a new paradigm.
Linking the education system
The linking of the education system to the labour market is another
factor that will contribute significantly to the development of sound
HRD policy and programmes. At present, the education system cannot meet
the demands placed on it because of the rising youth population. On the
other hand, those with degrees cannot get jobs.
This imbalance between available human resources and their
inappropriate preparation for the workforce prompts to recommend an
immediate change in the culture of education. The experts have to study
at length the varying degrees of training demanded by national
conditions and suggest further analysis of demographic trends.
Concurrently, a forecast of economic growth can be linked with
demographic analysis in order to develop a realistic macro-HRD policy
and to focus training programmes in key areas.
In this context, there are few questions which could be raised
regarding the linkage between education and the labour market: (1) What
redirection or new inputs are needed by the education system? (2) How
can we train recent graduates, mid-careerists and senior officials? (3)
How can the productivity of education be measured? (4) What are the
implications of the increasing gap between knowledge workers and the
rest of the labour force? (5) What is the knowledge gap within
professions? and (6) How does the specific culture value education?
Identification of the workforce of the future should be another
concern of the Expert team in their deliberations on HRD policy. When we
anticipate the future needs of public and private sector personnel, we
should identify a number of conditions that will define the nature of
the workforce of the future.
These conditions set a context for future development of personnel as
well as the working conditions that will allow them to perform their
tasks: (a) Deeper understanding of what the public sector and private
sector each exists for. This should be seen as critical to providing the
personnel with understanding and a context that will motivate them to
work; (b) Employees should be treated as assets to be invested in,
managed and cared for; (c) Policy development and decision-making should
be based on objective analysis and projections; (d) Mechanisms are
needed to facilitate information sharing, decision-making and trust
between political actors and bureaucrats; (e) The gap between knowledge
workers and the rest of the labour force impacts on salaries and perks.
Few other critical issues also exist. How can workers be shifted
among organizations and sectors to benefit productivity? How does one
train unemployed workers? What are the societal implications for reduced
unemployment in some areas and increased unemployment in others? These
are some elements that will impact HRD policy planning and programme
development. Serious thoughts need to be given to these issues as well.
Training and professional development should also be a major focus of
human resources development. Both the actual and perceived impacts of
training on HRD policies must be viewed with concern. Training in the
public sector is presently focused on the top and middle managers with
very little attention to the lower levels or the total organization.
Trained personnel were neither utilized properly, nor provided with
working conditions appropriate for application of their acquired skills
and knowledge to their organizations. There should be a sufficient
number and quality of professionally trained people to address emerging
challenges generated by the dynamic socio-economic conditions.
Although training of public personnel has often concentrated on the
routine application of bureaucratic rules and regulations, trained
personnel are required to shoulder responsibility for developing
strategies to promote economic growth and development for which they
were not trained. Likewise, public personnel trained abroad were often
educated in strategies of development, and upon their return were
required to apply routine bureaucratic rules and regulations. At the
same time, emphasis should be placed on organizational training and
institutional capacity building to which individual training and
performance should be linked.
Finally, in looking toward the future of the human resources
development, we must note two more important points: HRD should be
programmatically effective, culturally sensitive and cost conscious an
effective HRD policy-making should be sensitive to the changing
environment including the demographic profile and global economy.
writer is a corporate director with over 25 years senior managerial