The creation of employment is the holy grail of most economies. Entrepreneurs’ objective is generally to exploit business opportunities to make money and, in the process, generate jobs. In the modern economy, employers look for a set of skills from their employees to achieve their business aims as efficiently as possible. This could be a virtuous circle for the creation of wealth and employment.
But it seems that, at present, the Maltese economy is not managing to round this circle effectively enough. The flaw may lie in an educational system that is not giving young people the set of skills they need to make them employable.
The National Commission for Further and Higher Education conducted a survey that has revealed some worrying statistics about the skills base of young people who are knocking on the doors of businesses to find employment. According to this study, poor written communications skills are the main reason for employers being unable to fill vacancies. A close second reason is lack of technical skills, followed by poor problem-solving and lacklustre teamwork.
The consequence of these skills deficiencies are difficulties in meeting customer service objectives and lost business or orders to competitors.
That Malta’s education system has malfunctioned badly over the past few decades no longer surprises anyone. Besides having one of the highest rates in the EU of young people who leave school early without any formal qualifications, it seems that even those who manage to gain an academic or even vocational qualification lack the skills that employers are looking for to make their business successful.
Our educational system is managed at the strategic level by the government. Political parties like to make excellence in educational achievement one of their pledges on the eve of every election. They almost invariably promise to hand out free computers to all students, build new schools and maintain the existing ones to offer students the best possible environment. Most of the time the government manages to do this adequately well. However, many educators argue that politicians often miss the wood for the trees.
While there will always be job-specific skills a company is looking for, most employers will also want new recruits to have some general employability abilities. There is almost universal agreement that these employability skills include good written and verbal communications, teamwork, problem solving, initiative and enterprise, planning and organising, self-management, a learning attitude and familiarity with basic technology.
If the country’s educational system is not enabling school leavers or graduates with this comprehensive skills set, then it is failing our young people on whom our future depends. Remedial action to fix the educational system is needed urgently. Policymakers need to take a long-term view because in education it may take a whole generation to see the results of good strategy.
This remedial action must involve all stakeholders. The teaching profession should no longer be the Cinderella of the reform process. Teachers are the ones who face the real world of trying to impart knowledge on students.
Employers must not expect to remain isolated from the education system only to complain about the poor quality of skills of their young employees. Business needs to join forces with inspirational school leaders to give students a chance to engage in meaningful apprenticeships to have a chance of honing their employability skills.
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