This week a colleague of mine exclaimed to me: “This country can no longer do without a national skills strategy”. The social partners seem to agree with such a view for two main reasons. They wish they could employ Maltese persons, but they do not find persons with the required skills. Moreover, there are now certain occupations which Maltese persons would not like to do. Both these reasons are leading employers to take on employees who are not Maltese.
We do have a national E-Skills strategy which aims to ensure that society at large develops the right competence and capability to secure a better future and that employees have the appropriate digital skills for their job. We also have the National Skills Council with the aim to review the past and present available skills within our labour work force and evaluate the changes required to meet current and future needs. The main is to minimise the skill gaps that exist.
What triggered the statement of my colleague was taking cognizance of some facts. We have an ageing population, which essentially means that there will be less and less Maltese in the labour force. We have certain educational programmes that are experiencing a decreasing number of students. Young persons joining the labour force seem to have been exposed to a great deal of information but have not managed to transform that information into knowledge and expertise. They also lack certain skills such as decision making, self-organisation, critical thinking and so on. There is still a gender imbalance in a number of occupations.
As I mentioned the solution that has so far been applied has been to bring in foreign labour. There are two points to consider here. First, to what extent have the non-Maltese workers who came to our country in the last five years contributed to an upgrading of our skills. Second, how many more non-Maltese workers can our country absorb?
The change and the growth that our economy has gone through over the years (I would say decades) require a high degree of adaptability to enable people to grasp the opportunities which life presents. Important elements in developing adaptability include making sure people acquire the right mix of skills, use them effectively at work and in everyday life, and continuously update them throughout their lifetimes.
Trends which we are experiencing such as demographic changes and digitization, are, and will be, having a major impact on our economy and our society. This necessitates an upgrading of our skills. The fundamental skills, such as communication skills, language proficiency, critical thinking, ideas generation, mathematical reasoning, and others, remain the same. What changes very often are the sub-components of each skill.
The faster pace of change which we are experiencing also requires us to place lifelong learning at the top of the agenda. However even on this issue we need a rethink. We need to appreciate that a strong foundation in early learning and formal education are required to have a more positive approach to lifelong learning.
We all wish to build a sustainable future for this country and for future generations. To do this we need to stop thinking only of the immediate future. We need to understand the implications of our current policies and strategies, and we need to ensure that a sustainable future can only happen if we upgrade and adapt our skills constantly. This is why our country can no longer do without a national skills strategy.
Lawrence Zammit – Director