According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘The Future of Jobs Report’, 50 per cent of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as the pace of adoption of technology increases. Critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years.

Newly emerging skills this year are skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. Half of today’s workforce will need reskilling in the next five years as the double-disruption of the economic impacts of the pandemic and increasing automation keep transforming jobs.

The document ‘Education for the Future’, published by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, outlines that some jobs will be at risk or become redundant, while other new jobs will be created. New jobs will become a reality quicker, such as green jobs.

The demographic shift will also impact the shape of careers across sectors. The jobs on the increase will be those requiring creativity and innovation, digital skills – such as data analytics, programming and AI – and those requiring social/emotional intelligence.

Against this backdrop, the Malta Chamber and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) recently co-hosted a colloquium on July 20 to focus on how education and skills in Malta need to change in a post-COVID scenario. More than 70 participants gathered at the college to discuss how to bridge the communication gap between education and industry and how industry and education can collaborate to be more effective.

The college is keen to listen to industry stakeholders’ views of MCAST’s programmes and discuss the challenges the country will be facing in the coming years. The chamber contributed with their vision of the workplace and the skills required for current and future jobs in Malta.

Since its inception, MCAST has been at the forefront in providing the labour market with a steady stream of trained personnel in a multitude of vocational sectors. The college strives towards constant relevance, working hand in hand with industry and seeking active partnerships to provide students with the possibility of work-based learning (WBL) during their study programmes.

MCAST’s  objectives for the next few years are outlined in its 2022-2027 strategic plan, which emphasises WBL for all students, better linkages between staff and industry, and involving the students in decision-making processes. MCAST invites industry to engage with the college to forecast their skills requirements, to provide WBL opportunities, designing and reviewing curricula, to share expertise and to provide infrastructure/equipment. It also invites industry to make its presence felt on the MCAST campus.

The colloquium provided a space for discussion and forward-planning. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the board. Despite the differences between companies in terms of the sectors they operate in, and the extent to which they were impacted, their vigour, ability to manage change, and resilience were evident in all their interventions. Companies showed they are eager to reach out to support the economic recovery and keen to invest in the skills of the future.

30% of all MCAST programmes and students are below MQF Level 3, which should normally be attained by the end of compulsory schooling

The chamber pointed out that the human resource challenges companies face cannot all be addressed by MCAST. The limited supply of workers needs to be addressed in several ways. Still, MCAST can undoubtedly support the upskilling of the current workforce and the maximisation of the potential of future workers. The number of workers needed to support industry cannot all be sourced from MCAST, but the college can help address the challenges of Maltese society going forward, especially when automation and changes in job requirements make unskilled workers redundant.

There is need for a collective effort to capitalise on the investment being made at MCAST. Malta does not afford to lose any young person from the system.

During the past academic year, the most popular fields of study for post-secondary and tertiary students were business, administration and law (24.6 per cent), health (19.7 per cent), arts and humanities (10.6 per cent), and engineering, manufacturing and construction (9.7 per cent). Currently, 30 per cent of all programmes and students at MCAST are below MQF Level 3, which should normally be attained by the end of compulsory schooling.

Support to younger students needs to be provided more effectively in schools to reduce the number of students who need MCAST programmes at these levels. This would allow MCAST to focus more on MQF Level 4 programmes and dedicate more resources to liaise with industry on apprenticeship programmes.

Additional efforts are also necessary to find the modus operandi for the theoretical parts of the programmes to revolve around the apprenticeships and the needs of industry.

The chamber also proposed a shift away from the concept of a nine-month academic year towards a 12-month work plan, which is in line with how industries operate, and which would facilitate the transition between formal education and the real working life.

Flexible education pathways are necessary to allow the student to seamlessly merge their careers with their continued education. Students might want to come back to education later on a part-time basis. The dialogue needs to be ongoing and wider, breaking the silos and building synergies with other stakeholders and schools; possibly also looking at EU-funded projects to address skills gaps and the qualifications that need to be offered to the current labour force to bridge those gaps.

A focus on ‘learning to learn’ remains central to developing a culture of lifelong learning. Recruitment is costly and risky; continuous upskilling of staff is hence a smart investment that provides both the employer and employees with long-term benefits. Companies need to be more aware of this and of ways to improve the retention of their employees.

Challenges faced by companies include administrative constraints, lack of information on training and funding opportunities, and also reluctance by employees to undertake further training, particularly when this would entail some commitment outside working hours. The EU and the government can play an essential role in further supporting companies to upskill their workers by adopting supportive policies.

MCAST is proposing a Chamber Experts’ Register: a pool of industry experts in various fields to provide technical advice. Together with the chamber, MCAST proposes to take the lead on skills forecasting, engaging industry regularly to share innovation, change and new work practices.

Furthermore, the chamber is exploring the possibility of setting up a Skills Intelligence Office at MCAST to enable the college to respond to industry needs in a faster and timelier manner.

Focus on critical thinking skills at a primary and secondary level, rather than a later stage, is also recommended by the chamber in its ‘Future of Education’ proposal. The need for more critical thinking skills has been forecasted for the past two decades. More emphasis is necessary to provide such training and to foster an appreciation for such transversal skills. The current knowledge-acquisition education model is obsolete. Malta needs to change the focus to mastery of skills.

The chamber and MCAST can play an important role in increasing awareness on how the employment sector is changing, widening the understanding and appreciation of new jobs being created and mapping out the skill sets necessary to address the emerging gaps. The future of jobs and education and training requires concerted action between educators and employers.

MCAST and the chamber share a common platform for greater synergy and opportunities for young learners and workers to be productive in their working life and sustain their quality of life.

MCAST has widened its education and training provision over the past years, to include:

• New, emerging and changing vocational sectors;

• Study programmes at higher MQF levels, including master’s programmes;

• Different modes of blended and e-learning;

• Alternative ways of integrating work-based learning;

• Increased apprenticeships including apprenticeship degrees at MQF Level 6;

• Professional doctorate at MQF Level 8; and

• Streamlined student support and study programmes at the lower MQF levels to support lifelong learning.

Marisa Xuereb is president of the Malta Chamber of Commerce. Joachim James Calleja is MCAST principal and CEO.

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