Addressing the skills deficit

Statistical data shows that we have an increase in employment coupled with an increase in unemployment

Earlier this week we launched a new programme that will aim to address the problem that we face by having almost half of our Fifth Form students either giving up at the last hurdle, or managing to succeed in only one or two subjects at O-Level examinations. We cannot turn a blind eye to this serious situation - having so many youngsters falling by the wayside without receiving any support. These students must be given the necessary preparation for their working life and this new course will provide work and academic training to ensure that more and more youngsters have the necessary skills to meet the current job market demand.

Also this week, the European Commission launched the McKinsey report - an important work that emphasised the role of education to employment. It deals with the skills and employment crisis that Europe has faced and that it is still experiencing. Malta is no exception, and personally I feel that this issue cannot be stressed hard enough. The removal of trade schools here in Malta created a void at the secondary level which we have not yet succeeded in dealing with. The courses that have been introduced aim to improve work-based learning and to increase the attractiveness of vocational training.

My government knows that it can create jobs. We have done so during the first nine months in government, but we must also have the people with the required skills to fill these vacancies. In most cases, employers nowadays want to select ready-made talents, not focus on developing the talents they need. In the past, many companies could afford to invest in on-the-job training, while more recently there has been a consistently growing demand to do more on-the-job training while in school through internship and apprentice programs, so that people can come to the job ready to hit the ground running. It is believed that the real issue that we currently face is more of a 'skills crisis' rather than a 'job crisis'. Statistical data shows that we have an increase in employment coupled with an increase in unemployment. This anomalous situation clearly shows that the skills gap is a determining factor in unemployment rates.

We must address the skills deficit. We have a number of policy initiatives that will help us bridge the gap between employment opportunities and employability. Education is the key. We have to rethink education to cater for those academically gifted and those gifted with particular skills. I have already expressed, on a number of occasions, that the country cannot afford to have around 6,000 youths aged between 16 and 24 who are neither studying, training for work nor even seeking employment. This is why the Youth Guarantee is of paramount importance.

Coupled with this vocational training is the qualification framework. The European Qualification Framework (EQF) aims to make qualifications readily understandable to employers across the different European states. It will facilitate the free movement of all those acquiring the skills necessary for employability and address the importance of transparency.

We aim to provide young people with meaningful employment, through country-specific recommendations on the skills required for the current as well as the future job market. Cognitive skills of the population, rather than solely academic achievements, are strongly related to economic growth. Our human resources have always been one of our greatest assets and we can ensure that this is even further improved, by encouraging our youngsters through a better all-round education. The role of education in promoting economic growth is evident.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister for Education