Jobs, education: new ideas
The composition of those registering for a job on the books of the Employment and Training Corporation continues to provide good fodder for the ongoing political debate. More than that it should provide a spur to the authorities and policymakers to discuss the issue objectively, and to say what new steps are being taken to address the situation. It is far from satisfactory, even if the rate of the unemployed is relatively modest.
The NSO March news release on the registered unemployed says that there were 6,966 persons registering for work during the month, an increase of 304, or 4.6 per cent over the corresponding period a year ago. The registered unemployed in Malta stood at 6,236. The total in Gozo was 730. Unemployment among men went up by 137, or 2.6 per cent, while female unemployment increased by 167, or 12.2 per cent.
These are not figures that allow room for complacency. A further breakdown emphasises that conclusion. One in six of the unemployed are individuals under the age of 25. Eurostat indicates that the unemployment rate of workers in this category approximates 12 per cent. Just as worrying is the position of registrants aged 45 and over.
This category of workers is the most difficult to employ. The individuals in the category account for over a third of total registrants. They tend to dominate unemployed persons who have been registering for over 12 months. These numbered 2,336 in March, of whom 1,966 were men and 370 women.
This category represents a hardcore of unemployed who are very unlikely ever to find a job. Another 1,591 individuals had been registering for between 21 and 52 weeks (1,266 males, 365 females).
The NSO tables showing the occupations being sought by persons under parts one and two of the register is also telling. It suggests that there is a fair distribution of skills among the registered unemployed. Individuals seeking elementary occupations total no more than 814. No correlation is provided between occupations sought and the age groups of those seeking them. But the ETC can provide such data for the policymakers.
Parliamentary questions answered last week and first publicised by the shadow spokesman on education, Evarist Bartolo, shed further light on the worrying nature of the composition of the registered unemployed, looking at it from the educational angle.
It transpires from the information given in the House of Representatives that 5,771 – or a massive 85 per cent – of the 6,966 individuals registering for employment in March do not have a single pass certificate at ordinary level. It is no use telling this cohort of the unemployed that financial and gaming services continue to expand in Malta, or that Malta Enterprise is doing its best to promote digital games companies to locate here. There will be no openings – or if any, very few – for those lacking at least good secondary education in those sectors.
Another 930 unemployed registrants have an education level ranging from ordinary to advanced level, while 265 more hold a diploma or a university degree. Those categories stand a chance of finding employment in the new sectors of the economy.
It would have been interesting to see duration breakdown of these categories. Perhaps it will emerge from the answer to a future written parliamentary question.
Broadening the analytical look at the correlation between the unemployed and education in Malta, Mr Bartolo observed that data published by the European Union’s Eurostat a fortnight ago confirmed that Malta has the largest percentage of early school leavers in the EU, standing at 36.9 per cent at the last count, against an EU average of 14 per cent in 2010. Some 32.2 per cent of students leaving school at 16 are females. The percentage among male students is higher, at 40.9 per cent.
These figures shout out to be noticed well beyond the political field, in the domain of policy making and planning. The authorities do notice them, but reply with excuses which do not contain new ideas about how the twin problems of youth unemployment, enduring joblessness and education are to be attacked with fresh ideas and vigour.
They point out that the rate of those who drop out of the education sector at 16 has been falling. That is good to note. Yet the levels at which they still stand are most unsatisfactory, if not horrendous. The authorities also point out that MCAST offers scores of courses for individuals, and similarly the ETC promotes many training and retraining programmes, and that they cannot be blamed for the lack of initiative of those who do not choose to follow them.
Also true, but that does not wave away the fact that 85 per cent of job registrants in March, or 5,771 individuals – equivalent to at least three villages in Gozo – have no education to boast of and probably include a high proportion who cannot even read and write.
Seen in this light it can be (un)easily concluded that we do have significant unemployment and educational problems. For the authorities to resort to glib political rhetoric which persistently avoids the issue is not acceptable.
New ideas are a must and they must come sooner, rather than later.