The information and communication technology and financial services sectors constitute two of the major pillars of the Maltese economy, with ICT being the catalyst for potentially many more.

The digital economy permeates countless aspects of our national life. Having a pool of specialised ICT workers is a critical factor in ensuring a country’s relative advantage in the development, installation and servicing of ICTs. It touches on sectors as varied as banking, retail, energy, transportation, education, publishing, media and health. It is transforming the way social interactions are conducted, with fixed, mobile and broadcast networks converging, and devices and objects increasingly connected to form the so-called ‘internet of things’.

Global trade for ICT manufacturing and, especially, for ICT services continues to grow. During the last decade, employment of ICT specialists in the European Union continued to increase despite the effects of the financial downturn and uncertainty in labour markets.

The EU’s strategy to boost the Digital Single Market has focused greater attention on ICT skills. The performance of communications networks is constantly improving. The potential for increased adoption and use by firms of ICT and the internet to boost growth and innovation is huge across all sectors, especially in business-to-business transactions.

An ICT specialist designs, maintains and services systems used to store, retrieve and send data. Installation of the components of information technology is a major part of the ICT specialist’s job. This includes making hardware and software recommendations to clients as well as performing the installation itself. Routine maintenance and training of personnel who will use it are also their responsibility.

It is against this background that the excellent news that Malta has the highest share (63 per cent) of ICT specialists younger than 35 years of age in the EU and the third highest share of male ICT specialists should be viewed.

ICT specialists in Malta accounted for 3.7 per cent of the workforce (about 7,100 people) last year, an increase of almost three per cent over five years ago.

The country had the highest proportion of ICT graduates in the EU, almost nine per cent of whom had completed tertiary education – well above the EU average of 3.5 per cent. Regrettably, this good news is counterbalanced by the report that 46 per cent of Maltese businesses requiring ICT specialists were having difficulties filling vacancies.

The Maltese ICT specialist picture is a mixed bag. It is good on quality and age with a young cohort now coming through strongly.

However, it is still not meeting the demands of Maltese commerce and industry and other fields where employers are keen to fill vacancies. Gaps in the workforce must inevitably be causing gaps in productivity.

Governments are increasingly aware of the need to develop the digital economy in a strategic manner, to expand the benefits and respond to key challenges, such as reducing unemployment. The latest statistics about ICT specialists in the EU paint an encouraging picture of the number of young ICT specialists coming through the system in Malta.

It is an unsung success story for which Mcast and the University of Malta should receive credit. But the country is still short of meeting its overall requirements. Encouraging a higher intake of ICT specialists is essential to ensure trust in the reliability and security of online networks, services and applications.

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