Addressing Malta's future skill needs
Over 200 participants representing industry, commerce, employers, educational institutions, government agencies, students and other social partners, recently attended a conference co-ordinated by the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) titled 'Skills for the Future'. The conference dealt with the skills required to sustain the future development of Malta's growing economy and evolving society.
Education Minister Dolores Cristina, launched the conference by highlighting the importance of human resource development as the cornerstone for all socio-economic development aspirations and the need to connect policy developments in education with the vision outlined by the government for 2015.
This includes seven priority areas of development, aiming to transform Malta into a centre of excellence in tourism, finance, health, education, communication, IT and high value added manufacturing services. Additionally, Gozo is to be further developed as an ecological island. The minister pointed out that this requires substantial investment in Malta's human resources. However, the returns on the heavy investment in today's human capital will be reaped over a 10-15 year horizon.
Representatives of industry, including Federation of Industry deputy president Helga Ellul, Malta Chamber of Commerce senior vice-president Stefano Mallia, and Malta Employers' Association deputy president Lawrence Mizzi, highlighted the importance of skills to sustain economic growth and high productivity rates. They said a balanced portfolio of skills must be offered, and more adults in the workforce need to be engaged in training and re-training. They also urged that more students be attracted into technical and science-related programmes of learning, and stressed the crucial need to improve the soft skills and language proficiency of all students.
Malta Enterprise chief strategy officer Joseph P. Sammut and Employment and Training Corporation operations general manager Felix Borg highlighted their respective development agencies' various initiatives to attract foreign direct investment into the economy's growth segments, and train job-seekers.
University rector Juanito Camilleri shared the University's perspective on the economy's fast growth sectors and the necessary response of education at all levels. He said education today is equipping students with skills for unknown future challenges and opportunities.
He also stressed the importance of imparting mathematics and language proficiency skills from the early stages of children's education and promoting a lifelong learning attitude in all students. He maintained that skill gaps were a healthy indicator of new areas of development, and that fast responsiveness and adaptability to change was more important than perfect textbook knowledge of a specific subject, or a drive for certification.
Mcast principal Maurice Grech highlighted the high growth forecast in middle-skill jobs and Mcast's pivotal role in delivering vocational programmes that respond to new work opportunities. He said Mcast today was the primary gateway to better employment opportunities.
Misco managing director Joseph F.X. Zahra and Torsten Dunkel, project manager, research and policy analysis from CEDEFOP, delivered two other expert insights on skill gaps in Malta and Europe respectively.
Seven workshops followed, and their outcome is available on the NCHE's website www.nche.org.mt. As a follow-up, the NCHE is currently preparing a report outlining a set of recommendations on how education and training should be geared to address future skills requirements and how best to respond to the vision expressed by Government for 2015 in the seven priority areas of economic development.
The initiative was of key importance to NCHE's mission to promote a structured dialogue between stakeholders and develop a national strategy for further and higher education. The outcomes of the conference will form the basis for a report on skill gaps and necessary education responses, and will influence the development of all strategies in the education sector.
People are Malta's most abundant and untapped natural resource, and skills unlock this potential.
Skills can be measured by qualifications, and qualifications are in turn classified in levels. To this end, the development of the National Qualifications Framework by the Malta Qualifications Council and the work being done to map specific sectoral skills is vital. For employers, qualifications are an important part of their recruitment strategies. For employees, qualifications allow them to demonstrate the skills they have acquired, facilitate portability within the labour market, and motivates individuals and employees to complete their training.
From time to time, skill mismatches emerge due to rapid growth opportunities, high retirement rates that offset rates of student entry into labour market, lack of information available for students and parents to make informed choices, inflexible occupational mobility due to lack of adult education, training or re-training opportunities in the past, or lack of education and training programmes in new areas.
The importance of addressing the type of skills Malta will require in the coming 10-20 years is accentuated by the following three facts:
The first relates to the activity rate of our current and future working population. Out of 329,000 persons of working age (15 and over), 60 per cent work or seek to work and 40 per cent are inactive. To reach an activity rate of 70 per cent by 2020, Malta would need to prepare within a decade, at least 30,000 skilled people to fill up new jobs created.
Additionally, according to the 2005 census on the working population, over 30,000 persons are over the age of 50, and should the average retirement age remain around 65, another 30,000 skilled persons will be needed to replace retirees within the decade.
A second fact relates to the effect of Malta's ageing population. In 2007, 20 per cent of the population was over 60. By 2050 this is expected to increase to 30 per cent. This means the dependency ratio will change from the current rate of one retired person for every two persons employed, to one retired person for every 1.3 person employed by 2050.
Unless Malta has a net influx of people in the labour market, this increased burden on the working population implies that the workforce would need to support twice as many retirees per capita, and must double its productivity in the coming 40 years.
The third fact links participation rates in education to these emerging challenges. In the next 10 years, 50,000 students are expected to join the workforce. Assuming Malta reaches its target of 85 per cent participation rates in post-secondary education, 40,000 qualified young persons will enter the labour market. So if, for example, 60,000 jobs are created or made vacant, at least 20,000 currently 'inactive' adults would need to be trained and attracted into the labour market.
These are some of the main reasons why we need to jointly decide on the direction the education system is taking and linked it to the most important identified needs.
Access to skills is the key lever for prosperity, and will determine tomorrow's rich and poor - on both a country and a personal level. The best form of welfare is to ensure that people can adapt to change and avoid being permanently cut off from labour market opportunities.
Mr Sciberras is chief executive officer of the NCHE.