“Before this programme, I was not confident in communicating in English. Today, I am able to provide my feedback on the programme in English, without the help of anyone after following this programme. I believe that this will help me to a great extent in the future. I would like to thank John Keells for going beyond business relationships and supporting their suppliers,” said Ms. Kumari Rajakaruna, a participant of the SKIP (Skill into Progress) programme – a customized, industry-based programme developed by John Keells Foundation to support the upskilling of identified supplier groups of the John Keells Group to address their skill gaps and thereby enhance quality of service and income opportunities in a post-pandemic environment. The initiative was first piloted among chauffeur guides of Walkers Tours and Whittall Boustead Travel while another customized programme was conducted for suppliers of Keells supermarkets. This programme will continue to upskill different supplier groups as means of supply chain management facilitation of the John Keells Group.
The SKIP programme is the latest link in a chain of skills development initiatives planned and implemented by John Keells Foundation since its establishment over 16 years ago. The John Keells Group has long understood that access to relevant education and skills development are of crucial importance in ensuring the availability of a productive and motivated labour force in Sri Lanka. As such, the Group through its CSR entity, John Keells Foundation (JKF), has prioritized the need for developing market relevant skills of children and youth across Sri Lanka.
According to the Labour Force Survey Report by the Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka in 2020 was at 25.7 percent and this situation is expected to be aggravated by the continuing pandemic. World Youth Skills Day, observed annually on 15th July, focuses on the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. This has also been the primary focus of JKF’s Education pillar under which an array of long-term sustainable initiatives has been developed and implemented for the benefit of selected children, youth and other target groups empowering approximately 25,000 persons over the years.
The ‘John Keells English Language Scholarship Programme’ is JKF’s flagship skills development initiative aimed at enhancing the English communication, ICT and soft skills of selected school children and university youth. Since its launch in 2004, the programme, implemented in collaboration with the Gateway Language Centre, has directly benefited over 17,700 school children and youth. “English for Teens” – targeting pre O’Level students of disadvantaged schools – is conducted in two tiers enabling high performing students to qualify for an advanced programme. With the COVID outbreak, the programme continued through online classes with close monitoring of staff volunteers from John Keells Group.
Each year, the programme concludes with an English Day – held at all island and regional levels – to showcase the learnings of the scholars. With the pandemic-related gathering restrictions in the recent past, this element of the programme was also taken to an online platform. In 2020, poetry recitation was held virtually, and in 2021, a speech competition was organized for 150 students from 12 locations. Significant improvement in communication skills and confidence levels was observed by the teachers and the project team during the speech competition. Students spoke about My Journey as a English Language Scholarship Student, The Benefit Of Learning English For My Future and My Experience Learning English Online and Nethma Dilmini from Beruwala in her speech summed up her experience as “The skills gained from the English Language Scholarship Programme will greatly increase my educational opportunities and to help me pursue my dream of becoming a cardiologist. Furthermore, when I go out into society English language will be beneficial to me in in emergencies and will also help me to learn about the cultures of different countries. By using English as a tool I’ll be able to explore the world with confidence.”
Since 2006, John Keells Group’s Transportation Sector through JKF has been organizing a customized English scholarship programme for first year undergraduates of the Transport and Logistics Management (B.Sc (T&LM) Hons) Degree programme to enable better participation in their graduate studies, empowering over 726 undergraduates.
JKF has also conducted customized courses on English communication skills development for the students of the School for the Blind in Ratmalana as well as the School for the Deaf in Ratmalana.
As a means of raising awareness and preparing youth for career and self-employment opportunities, JKF has also conducted career guidance and vocational training programmes for disadvantaged school children and school leavers in various locations within JKF’s Village Adoption and Praja Shakthi projects.
Moreover, towards mitigating unemployment rates by increasing the career-readiness of youth, JKF has also offered Higher Education Scholarships to promote pursuit of advanced studies among economically disadvantaged youth as well as Soft Skills Workshops, job fairs, exposure programs and internships for University undergraduates aimed at enhancing their career skills, attitudes and opportunities, in collaboration with various businesses of the John Keells Group.
The overarching objectives of these initiatives are to complement the State education and higher education systems and improve outcomes, develop market relevant skills, attitudes and competencies and thereby enhance access to employment opportunities to a greater number of youth who can in turn gainfully contribute to fostering a prosperous, sustainable and equitable socio-economic environment for all, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Education is one of the six focus areas of John Keells Foundation – the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), a company listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors. With a history of over 150 years, John Keells Group provides employment to over 14,000 persons and has been ranked as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Respected Entity’ for the last 15 Years by LMD Magazine. Whilst being a full member of the World Economic Forum and a Participant of the UN Global Compact, JKH drives its CSR vision of “Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow” through John Keells Foundation and through the social entrepreneurship initiative, ‘Plasticcycle’, which is a catalyst in significantly reducing plastic pollution in Sri Lanka.