In recent years, Malta’s employment landscape has undergone a significant transformation, moving away from labour-intensive activities and shifting towards a dynamic economy driven by technological advancements, changing consumer demands and a globalised business environment.

This transition is rapidly reshaping the nature of work and redefining the skills needed for success in the contemporary job market. This has brought a dramatic shift in what companies are looking for in their employees. “Nowadays, they’re after employees who know their way around tech, can market stuff online, handle finances, or are experts in specific types of engineering,” said Joanne Bondin, president of the Malta Employers Association.

The pandemic has sped up the move towards remote work and flexible setups, pushing businesses to get savvy with digital tools for remote collaboration. “These changes have had a big impact on jobs in Malta. Employers are on the hunt for people with specialised skills to match the fast-changing market. Competition for talent is tough, leading to better pay and perks to attract and keep skilled workers,” Bondin added.

At the same time, much as it is an employee’s market, workers still need to keep learning new skills to remain employable. Thankfully, workers can access a plethora of education and training programmes, which equip the workforce with the skills needed for the changing economy, while also making it easier for skilled workers from abroad to join the local market. “All in all, these efforts are aimed at keeping Malta’s job market strong and adaptable to the changing business world, both locally and in the broader European scene”, the MEA President adds.

Even at an EU level, there is an unprecedented drive to invest in skills, with the European Social Fund Plus alone investing €99 billion in people during the 2021-2027 timeframe, with the European Year of Skills highlighting the multitude of opportunities available in this regard.

Reflecting industry perspectives, Godwin Xerri, Managing Director of Focal Maritime concurs with Bondin on the shortfall in coverage of specialised skills demanded by the job market. This gap emerges in emerging technologies, requiring specific technical skills absent in traditional curricula, as well as in industries with distinct knowledge and skill requirements.

Xerri however sees a silver lining in this situation, which creates an opportunity to mould fresh minds. “In such situations, it is ideal to hire talented people. When industry knowledge or experience is missing, we should be looking at skills such as flexibility, agility, drive, and a desire to learn,” he added.

Asked why young people stay away from certain jobs, Xerri suggested that some careers can be very interesting but not “marketed” enough. Identifying sectors such as the maritime, transport and logistics industry as prime examples, he argues that may happen because of limited awareness, insufficient industry representation, or a lack of networking channels. “As a result, individuals may overlook these careers despite their potential for personal fulfilment and professional growth.”

What is the way forward then? “Collaboration between career development offices, educational institutions, and industry partners is crucial for aligning educational offerings with the demands of the job market”, he explains. He adds that this can involve curriculum advisory boards, guest lecturers, industry-sponsored projects, and internship placements to enhance students' employability and career readiness. A well-functioning internship system which involves clear guidelines, structured programmes, and meaningful experiences for interns can be very important,” he added.

Dr Anne Marie Thake, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta and an HR and policy specialist, explains that efforts in this direction are already underway, and some academic disciplines already collaborate with different stakeholders to enable the identification of emerging industry trends and skill requirements. “In this way insights, challenges and priorities are exchanged and immersed in the curricula. Labour market trends helps identify evolving industry needs and potential skill gaps”.

She added that Universities today are urged to produce employable graduates. “Skills have become the focus of graduate employability, and the terms are promoted in higher education policy and practice.” Reflecting on the wider educational offering in the country, she noted how the National Education Strategy 2024-2030 launched earlier this year, focuses on preparing “a resilient generation with sharpened human skills, namely empathy, emotional self-regulation, and elevated flexibility.”

In recent years, University has invested in courses, specialisations, areas of study and research initiatives designed to produce qualified professionals who work in public and private organisations.  “It is geared towards providing expertise in fields that are crucial such as specialised ICT and computer skills, nursing, and health care to Malta’s infrastructural and industrial development. However, many employers have shifted from seeking entry credentials to assessing critical skills. This is because credentials do not reflect the actual skills required to carry out the job,” she argued.

However, the journey is a long one, and Dr Thake readily accepts that more needs to be done. In addressing this imperative, the educational strategy necessitates a recalibration to accommodate the prevailing labour market exigencies. Fine tuning Malta’s education strategy to market requirements needs to be an ongoing process. For this to happen, monitoring graduate outcomes, employment rates, employer satisfaction, and student feedback provides valuable data for refining policies and programs to better meet industry needs.

“By fostering collaboration and dialogue between academia and industry, stakeholders can ensure that education and training programmes remain relevant, responsive, and aligned with the evolving needs of the workforce,” concluded Dr Thake.

As part of the European Year of Skills, that will run until May 2024, the EU is providing ample opportunities for all European citizens to improve their skills or learn new ones. The concept of skills development and learning new skills for better employability or career change is also supported by the European Commission. For more information on how you can develop your skills, find a job or build a top-quality CV valid across the EU, visit the Let’s Make It Work campaign website.

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