The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the labour market with large scale layoffs in the country during 2020. One of the key lessons learned from the pandemic is the critical importance of having a diversified employment structure to distribute the risks of external shocks and building more resilience in the labour market. This brings about an urgent need for the Government to target reskilling and upskilling of workers to bridge skill gaps across sectors, and to help recovery of the economy.
With the border closures and travel restrictions, global tourism was brought to a standstill. The closure of borders on 27 March 2020 led to an abrupt halt in tourism, the foremost driver of employment, revenue, and growth in the Maldives. The impacts on the tourism industry were felt across the country, accentuating the risks accompanying the dependence on a single economic activity. Therefore, shifting the economy towards various economic activity and distributing the risk of external shocks is currently at the forefront of policy making. However, the Maldives lacks the skilled labours necessary to diversify the employment structure.
One of the major initiatives taken as a response to the COVID-19 crisis by the government, in collaboration with World Bank, was the COVID-19 Emergency Income Support Project. The first phase of the project was primarily focused on financing the COVID-19 Income Support Allowance (ISA) program, implemented by Ministry of Economic Development (MoED). The main objective of the program was to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis on workers and their families. The ISA program was concluded in December 2020, with a total of 22, 940 individuals receiving benefits during the tenure of the program.
As part of the second phase of the project, a training and upskilling program was initiated during the second quarter of 2022. Under this phase, MoED focused on main two areas; (i) upskilling and training programs; (ii) self-employed grant and assistance programs.
Upskilling and training programs include an apprenticeship program implemented with the support of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and was launched on 26th April 2022. Selected apprentices are employed in the firms for a period of six months and will receive a certificate level training to ensure that they have presentable skills at the end of the tenure. Additionally, this programs also aims to ensure that the workers whose income and employment were negatively affected due to COVID-19 can re-enter the job market and seek employment.
As such, the project introduced certificate-level training courses in partnership with accredited Maldivian training institutes. While a total of 19 targeted courses on Information and Communication Technology, Accounting, and Diving have been facilitated as of now, the program focuses on enhancing individuals with relevant technical skills, knowledge, and training. As of 15th December 2022, approximately 858 applicants have successfully joined the training and apprenticeship programs.
Additionally, the project introduced an entrepreneurship program for self-employed workers, which includes business skills training and capital improvement grants. The Self-Employed Support Program aims to provide financial and technical assistance to self-employed workers whose livelihoods were affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was opened for self-employed individuals, including freelance and home-based workers from eight selected sectors, prioritising marginalised groups and women.
Upskilling initiatives such as those offered under the Training and Upskilling Program are expected to drive productivity levels while contributing to diversify the economy. Developing skills for target sectors reinforces capabilities leading to greater productivity, competitiveness, and innovation. This diversifies the labour market, ensuring that the economy shifts away from a single economic activity.