Technology should be harnessed to connect people to high quality education and jobs, says Caroline Buhagiar Klass.

Locally, what skills are currently mostly in demand?

Nowadays, skills shortage is being felt across different industries, so there is no specific one that is more prominent than others. In a full employment market where supply is not meeting the demands, the situation becomes more challenging.

According to the latest report from Cedefop EU (2018), the fastest growing sectors are IT and professional services. This is creating a lot of job opportunities within a limited pool of employees, which in turn translates into a shortage.

Are such needs in line with the rest of Europe?

According to Talent Search EU, in Europe the most defined needs are linked to healthcare and ICT. This is somewhat similar in part to Malta. During a recent discussion on CNBC, they listed some of the most in demand skills this year. These are digital marketing, industrial design, competitive strategies, customer service systems, software testing, data science, computer graphics and corporate communications.

Caroline Buhagiar KlassCaroline Buhagiar Klass

However there is not enough data that can provide a holistic picture of specific skill shortage by country. At best today we can say that some sectors are finding it more challenging to find the people with the skills they need as job opportunities continue to be issued.

Are these needs being met – and if yes, how?

Today, we are aware that such needs are not always met because we have a shortage in human resources. A lot of work is being carried out both in EU and Malta to ensure we can fill these needs. Currently the statistical information on skill and qualification requirements for occupations is fragmented and difficult to compare across European countries, and usually not detailed enough to reflect the specific characteristics of a given occupation.

How is the education system preparing tomorrow’s workforce?

First we need to understand where we are heading with respect to jobs that we do not know of today. Around the world, we are already seeing existing mismatch between youth skills and employer needs – this threatens to become even wider as Industry 4.0 transforms business and jobs faster than workers can adapt.

Two-thirds of five-year-olds today will, in 15 years’ time, find themselves in jobs that do not even exist today. The jobs that do exist won’t necessarily be located where the job seekers live. Technology has allowed us to connect the far reaches of globe and enable business to flourish. But if that technology cannot be harnessed to connect people to high quality education and jobs, then the repercussions could be experienced broadly. Greater income inequality, increased unemployment in specific countries or geographical area, growing dependence on government, and more mass migrations are a few of the most pressing challenges that we may face if we do not plan to train adequately the next generation of workers for the digitally driven economy.

This threatens to become even wider as Industry 4.0 transforms business and jobs faster than workers can adapt

The education system is doing its utmost to prepare the workforce of the future. A lot of dialogue is ongoing between the education institutions and the business community. There is clear understanding that these bodies need to work closely together if we are to tackle it effectively. Learning agility and speed of execution will be key to ensure Malta is well placed to address the skills needed by tomorrow’s workforce. A lot is already being done but we need to do more and have a holistic human capital plan for our country.

In what ways do ICT advancements influence the jobs – and human resources – that will be needed in the future?With potentially groundbreaking HR technology solutions emerging, we’re seeing a tech boom that is fundamentally reshaping the way we work — and how we think about HR.

According to the Human Capital Management Trends report 2019, it was noted that the investment in HR technologies known as HRIS systems has tripled since 2017. Some of these technologies are powered by artificial intelligence and automation which have disrupted the way we manage HR.

AI and machine learning are opening the door to a whole new world of possibility for the human capital space and we need to be prepared for it as it can be overwhelming if we are not equipped to maximise its potential. Just to give an example, when recruiting new hires, we all know that it is a time-consuming and costly process, but thanks to automation and AI it’s getting easier to find skilled people who are a great fit for the company.

From automated résumé screeners to robot interviewers, a wave of these technical solutions for recruiting has hit the market mainly in the US, Asia and some countries in Europe. In Malta we have not yet seen this fully integrated within our local HR sphere but some of these tools are already being used locally.

AI has already shown impressive results in the recruitment space and is starting to outperform humans at making hiring decisions in certain areas, such as evaluating hard skills. AI then frees up recruiters to focus more on conducting soft-skill and culture-fit evaluation in a more structured way. This can be a great advantage for HR professionals to invest their time in providing more value-added services to their organisations which machines cannot deliver, at least not yet.

What skills will the workforce of the future need?

According to the World Economic Forum the workforce of the future will require three sets of skills. Higher cognitive: these skills include advanced literacy and writing, quantitative and statistical skills, critical thinking and complex information processing. Doctors, accountants, research analysts, writers and editors typically use these. Social and emotional, or so-called soft skills: these include advanced communication and negotiation, empathy, the ability to learn continuously, to manage others and to be adaptable. Business development, programming, emergency response and counselling require these skills. Technological: this embraces everything from basic to advanced IT skills, data analysis, engineering and research. These are the skills that are likely to be the most highly rewarded as companies seek more software developers, engineers, robotics and scientific experts.

To determine such needs, how important is the collaboration between the education system and the financial and commercial sectors?

Collaboration between these bodies is fundamental. We need to have a strong workforce plan in place that can anticipate human capital trends. Human resource is the only resource Malta has and we need to do our utmost to build capability, encourage continuous development and continue to cultivate a culture that embraces change. This will help our future workforce become more resilient and be ready for the work of the future. Human capital research will help shape our curriculum so that we have a pipeline for the jobs that will be created in the future.

Caroline Buhagiar Klass is head of human resources at HSBC Bank Malta and is a board member of the Foundation for Human Resources Development (FHRD).