A report published by the National Statistics Office revealed that more than half of workers in Malta are in jobs that do not match their level of skills or education.

The NSO’s research into the mismatch of skills in Malta found that just over half of Maltese workers are either overqualified or underqualified for the job they are doing.

This in itself is no paradox at all. When we are facing the skills shortages that we are facing as an economy, it is not surprising at all that there exists this level of mismatch. The paradox lies in the fact that in our country 35 per cent of workers are doing a job for which they are overqualified, and 19 per cent are doing a job for which they are underqualified.

In an economy where employers keep saying that employee retention is the key strategic objective of the HR function, where salary demands is the main challenge of the HR area, and lack of experienced applicants is one of the main reasons for recruitment difficulties, one would have expected a different situation.

The expectation would have been that, since employers are in such dire straits because they risk having to cease operations due to skills shortages, they had to appoint persons into roles for which they were not qualified. The argument would have been filling the role even if the person may not be able to do the job.

However, we have the opposite. One in three workers is overqualified for the job they are doing.

This situation is proof that our labour market is not functioning effectively. One would expect qualified persons to do a job for which they are overqualified in countries where there is high unemployment. For example, one finds that, even in certain EU member states, a graduate lawyer doing the job of a sales assistant. In Malta, we do not have this situation, which leads to some questions.

Our skills mismatch is that employees do not have the appropriate skills (all too often soft skills), aptitude and attitude required for the job they have been hired to do

Overqualification is defined as having an educational qualification for which such a qualification is not required. One may understand that in the construction sector, which relies heavily on third-country nationals, there are individuals with a high standard of education who are in a construction job simply because that was the only job they were offered. One does not understand why it happens in other sectors as well.

Is it because employers are asking for qualifications which are not justified for the post they are seeking to fill? Can someone else with a lower level of qualifications do the job equally well? What is the weight that should be given to experience and possession of soft skills, as against academic qualifications? To what extent are employers recruiting at the wrong level?

If people are overqualified for the job they are doing and yet employers claim there is a shortage of skills, could it be because the quality of our graduates is not that good? Is the fact that the incidence of overqualified workers is higher among females an indication that we still do not have enough gender diversity and gender inclusion at our workplace? Is the glass ceiling too hard to break to enable women to move to higher-skilled jobs?

All these questions point to a paradox. We should not be facing such situations in an economy which has exceedingly low unemployment. Or is there hidden unemployment somewhere?

In Malta, when we speak of a skills mismatch, we are not speaking of having accountants, lawyers, and engineers which the economy does not need and not having enough nurses, teachers, and architects which the economy needs. Our skills mismatch is that employees do not have the appropriate skills (all too often soft skills), aptitude and attitude required for the job they have been hired to do.

It is this latter situation that we need to address if our economy is to get out of the rut of skills shortages.

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