Strengths and weaknesses of ICT skills training revealed
This is the picture that emerges from a study on the demand and supply of ICT skills in Malta, compiled by consulting firm KPMG in co-operation with the Ministry for Investment, Industry and Information Technology (MIIIT), published last week.
The study was based on interviews carried out in the last six months with 11 local training providers and 23 ICT service providers.
"While the results of the study are quite positive with respect to the local ICT sector, it is very encouraging to observe the extent to which the local industry has expanded," Hadrian Sammut, senior advisor at KPMG, told i-Tech.
"In the process it created numerous jobs and areas of specialisation, providing countless opportunities for anyone seeking a rewarding career within the ICT sector."
This study reveals, among other things, that:
The demand for certified technical personnel in Malta experienced consistent growth over the last four years;
The local demand for certifications evolved to cover a wide spectrum of ICT roles and areas of specialisation;
Seventy per cent of the projected demand for vendor-specific certifications will be related to Microsoft-based products;
Training is spurred mainly by government's incentive policies, the rapid growth of the local ICT sector, the contribution of the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology, as well as the launch of the SmartCity Malta project; and
There is a need for persons with no ICT skills to learn foundation ICT skills before endeavouring to follow vendor-specific ICT certifications with the intention of pursuing an ICT career.
"The study demonstrated quite clearly that training centres are enhancing the number and level of courses currently available in anticipation of the launch of SmartCity," commented Mr Sammut.
"At the same time the demand for vendor-specific certification is similarly increasing, mainly as a result of people seeking qualification in order to be in a better position to compete for prospective employment within the SmartCity project."
The survey indicates that ICT service providers clearly prefer to employ academically qualified personnel. In fact, 93 per cent of the overall respondents claimed that they actively support their employees in getting certified.
Training providers said the courses they offer are in response to the high demand that exists locally for the skills obtained through these certifications and the employment opportunities that can be availed of following the successful completion of the respective certifications.
The vendor-specific course offerings supplied by the local training providers satisfies by large the demand for ICT skills posed by service providers. However, the KPMG report revealed that local service providers feel the need for a wider variety of vendor-specific certifications including HP, IBM, Macromedia, SUN Java and JBOSS.
Furthermore it transpired that there is a discrepancy between service providers' expectations and the overall quality of certified personnel. Service providers stated that they expect certified personnel to possess a good balance of theoretical knowledge and practical experience but argued that training providers provide more of the former.
The training and service providers interviewed held that there is a shortage of high quality ICT resources. With the burgeoning demand for ICT skilled resources, the number of ICT professionals supplied by the University of Malta falls short of market demand, though it is increasing gradually. Since MCAST was set up, the number of vocational ICT-skilled persons increased significantly. In addition to these graduates, there are the vendor-specific certified individuals by the local ICT training providers.
Higher investment by local training providers to offer a wider variety of higher-end certification is needed to ensure that the market demand for specialised ICT skills is satisfied. Nevertheless so far foreign employees represent 13.4 per cent of the total workforce currently employed within the local ICT sector surveyed.
The service-providers pinpointed a number of trends and factors, which may impact upon the demand for vendor-specific certified personnel. These include attaining quality using fewer but more qualified technical resources; the current growth of the local ICT sector, with the emerging presence of international players and the local companies that are also active in the foreign markets; the need for more academically qualified personnel than is currently available; and the trickling ICT brain drain of Maltese certified personnel seeking more lucrative work abroad.
Another thing that emerged from the KPMG survey was the universal approval of the ICT education and industry initiatives undertaken by the Maltese government, through MIIIT, to support and promote the information society.
"We are launching an auditing exercise to analyse the delivery of ICT training in Malta to ensure that the demand from industry is satisfied to the best possible level by the local training providers both in terms of quality and quantity," a ministry spokesman said.
The ministry's myPotential training support programme was considered as "appropriate and successful" by the organisations interviewed.
In fact, the ministry spokesman confirmed that the second year of myPotential - with a far broader programme of initiatives and areas for certification - would be launched shortly. MIIIT is also working with SAP to set up a new academy to join Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle's academies at the University and Mcast.
"We have reached and exceeded our 2006 target for over 500 new ICT specialists a year and we are stepping up our access streams to double that number within the next three years. SmartCity as well as other ICT employers in Malta will find in Malta the pool of specialised, skilled, qualified and certified resources they need," the ministry spokesman reassured.