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Minding the skills gap, today and tomorrow

The new Mcast campus in Paola is taking shape.

The new Mcast campus in Paola is taking shape.

Frederick Schembri, the new chairman of the board of governors at Mcast, gives Joseph Grech some insight into how the institution is catering for industry needs.

Malta is importing an ever-increasing number of foreign workers to fill vacancies being generated by the country’s economic development and for numerous projects in industries such as construction, igaming and financial services.

Frederick Schembri, chairman of Mcast’s Board of Governors.Frederick Schembri, chairman of Mcast’s Board of Governors.

Is this perhaps a sign that learning institutions are not catering for, or coping with, the economy’s demand for certain skills?

Frederick Schembri, the new chairman of the board of governors at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, is  adamant that this is not the case. He insists that Mcast’s courses are catering not only for the skills needed in the labour market today but also for those of tomorrow.

“Skill needs are changing rapidly and the updating of our programmes is an ongoing process,” he says.

Mcast will, in fact, offer over 20 new courses in the coming academic year, including a Diploma in iGaming (Level 3) and an Advanced Diploma in Industrial Electronics (Level 4).

Schembri also indentifies the success of Mcast’s apprenticeship programme. In the last academic year, the programme catered for a record number of 863 students on 51 apprenticeship programmes, indicating that employers are extremely happy with the talent Mcast is providing.

Since Mcast took over full responsibility for apprenticeships in Malta in 2015, the relationship between employers and the training provider has been enhanced, bringing the world of education closer to that of employment.

Mcast’s apprenticeship programme was a success story. Employers are extremely happy with the talent Mcast is providing

“With the new Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning Act of 2017, a new culture of apprenticeship has been sown in our country, making it easier for employers to integrate their expertise as well as capacity in training provision”  and vice versa,” says Schembri.

He adds that even some higher education institutions and the universities are looking towards work-based learning as an effective,  alternative way of learning and employability.

With Mcast increasingly moving into higher vocational education and training (VET) through the setting up of its University College and its growing number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, some people may question whether the college is encroaching on University of Malta territory.

“The fact that we have moved towards higher vocational education and training is a clear indication that we are laying the ground for more specialised skills in at least 10 key sectors in Malta, including ICT, engineering and care services,” comments Schembri.

“Mcast’s University College runs degrees and master’s programmes to meet gaps in industry needs, either where there are no comparable programmes provided by other local degree-providing institutions, or where the industries require  a higher level of skill and competences than that found in existing programmes.”

A first example of this is the Mcast BSc (Hons) in Environmental Engineering, which Schembri explains is strong in skills and competences relating to water, energy and waste auditing and for which no similar programme exists. Another example is the Mcast MSc in Lean Enterprise, which adopts lean manufacturing techniques in a unique way to tackle resource efficiency challenges within a business environment.

Schembri says that these programmes provide healthy competition to their counterparts provided by other academic institutions. Mcast in addition, is also promoting its programmes internationally to attract foreign students to undertake full-time and part-time courses in Malta.

At the same time, there are various areas and programmes whereby Mcast and the University of Malta successfully collaborate. One example is the BA in Advanced Studies in Early Years, where students follow the first two years at Mcast and then move on to conclude the final year at University. Mcast and the University also collaborate in sharing best practices on entrepreneurship education.

For the 2018-9 academic year, Mcast’s University College is offering a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in areas ranging from performing arts to quantity surveying. A set of new generic degrees will be launched, including bachelor degrees in applied technology, as well as community studies.

New master programmes will also be offered, including a Master of Arts in Product Design and a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering.

Among Mcast’s new courses in 2018-9 is an Advanced Diploma in Industrial Electronics.Among Mcast’s new courses in 2018-9 is an Advanced Diploma in Industrial Electronics.

In 2007, when the government announced a decision to develop a new Mcast campus in Paola, the aim was to house all of the college’s institutes in one campus by 2015. However, this timescale has  slipped.

Schembri admits that the new Mcast campus is a work in progress: “At present, old buildings are being demolished and new ones are being constructed. By 2020, we will have three new fully operational buildings, housing the Institute for Engineering and Transport, the institute for ICT and the Mcast Resource Centre.”

As regards Mcast’s vision for the future, the chairman says: “Mcast will be a college that caters for inclusion and excellence. Every young person who leaves secondary education with low skills will be given the opportunity to climb up the ladder of qualifications to two levels of competence, as either a technician or at an even higher level. Mcast will ensure that Malta will continuously have a skilled workforce at two important levels of employment: technicians at a technical level and at higher specialised levels.

“We will also be playing a more proactive role in the forging of new relationships with employers, while sharing qualifications  as well as training opportunities for industry partners.”

Research activity

Among the college’s main research areas is process optimisation and automation and advanced manufacturing.Among the college’s main research areas is process optimisation and automation and advanced manufacturing.

Research activity at Mcast is focusing primarily on the following four pillars:

▪ Manufacturing with a focus on process optimisation and automation and advanced manufacturing;

▪ Health and tourism with a special emphasis on assisted living engineering, environmental improvement, personal aides and prosthesis;

▪ Energy, water and agriculture, centering on environmental science and agriculture and strategic resources; and

▪ Education, concentrating on vocational education and training (VET).

Mcast is also expanding its internal research capacity and widening its spectrum in research and innovation:

▪ It is participating in over 20 local and European research initiatives, securing over €500,000 in local R&I funds mainly through the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) funding, as well as tapping €1 million in European research funds mainly through Interreg and Horizon 2020.

▪ It is active in 13 European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) actions.

▪ Its Water Research and Training Centre is coodinating a €1 million Horizon 2020 research project on water-agriculture research and innovation in Malta.

Cultivating entrepreneurship

▪ The Mcast Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) offers the college’s students and its alumni a platform to continue developing their ideas into commercial ventures by providing mentoring, additional training as well as  assistance in finding financial support through business support grants or potential venture capitalists.

▪ Success stories range from salt lamps exported to Germany, industrial electrical and mechanical engineering services and/or supplies, and interior design services.

▪ Among the centre’s successful spin-offs is the creation of ‘Paddly Lockers’ by former MEC tenants – Sebastian Mizzi and Roberto Tweraser – who joined forces with other Mcast alumni to create high-tech and secure locker systems. For more details, view http://mypaddly.com.

▪ Another success story is that of digital artist Bernard Montebello, who uses specific techniques and modern technology to create unique and original digital artworks using a wide variety of mediums. For more information, visit www.montebello-digitallart.com.

https://www.facebook.com/mcastentrepreneurship

Mcast Expo

Mcast will tomorrow launch its prospectus of full-time courses for the 2018-2019 academic year on the first day of the Mcast Expo at its main campus in Paola.

▪ The expo offers prospective students and their families an opportunity to discover more about Mcast and the courses it offers.

▪ Career advisers will be available to help and advise students.

▪ Representatives from manufacturing industries and services will be present to discuss career and employment prospects.

▪ Visitors will also be able to meet current Mcast students and learn about their projects and innovations.

▪ The expo will be open from 10am to 1pm and 4 to 8pm between tomorrow and Friday, and from 10am to 1pm on Saturday.

www.mcast.edu.mt

Mcast in numbers

Students enrolled in Mcast courses in 2017/18:
6,064 - Full-time
4,000 - Part-time

Graduands/students receiving certificates in 2016/17:
1,121 - Foundation College
1,022 - Technical College 
807 - University College
2,950 - Grand total 

Staff:
252 - Administrative
479 - Academic

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