Need to plan ahead in financial services sector

Two main issues are lack of qualifications and lack of experience. We must create a proper strategic and holistic solution to address these issues.

Malta’s drive to become a global financial services centre, has helped generate around 10,000 jobs in this field. Highly skilled jobs in this sector are well paid. According to an NSO report published last July, with reference to official statistics as at December 2013, the stock of foreign direct investment in Malta was estimated at €9.6 billion, with 70.6 per cent originating from financial and insurance enterprises.

We believe that we should undertake more education-led initiatives to address specific needs for this important sector. We must address any skills shortages to ensure and sustain the availability of suitably qualified personnel to meet the requirements of the industry on an ongoing basis.

There are a number of hard-to-fill occupations in several sub-sectors of the financial services industry. Credit and financial institutions, insurance companies, companies specialising in trust management and investment services have identified a number of areas in which they are finding it difficult to recruit the right people.

Two main issues are lack of qualifications and lack of experience. We must create a proper strategic and holistic solution to address these issues. The launch of the insurance degree programme and the fact that 58 students were awarded a scholarship to further their studies in the financial sector is a positive step towards building the skills level necessary for the financial services industry.

Five years ago, the National Commission for Higher Education (NCFHE) issued a report highlighting the job potential in the financial services sector. Although the creation of new jobs is substantial, the report states that 54 percent of these vacancies would be hard to fill. The number of people employed in the sector has risen sharply, but the number of people with the necessary skills has not increased with the same proportion.

To address the problem of lack of experience, it is being proposed that a number of graduates are sent for a four- to six-month International Work placement project, through which they would gain first-hand experience in those key areas where there are skills shortages in the industry. This would enhance their employability and at the same time provide home grown talent for the industry. Such placements can be made possible through the help of Finance Malta and financial institutions operating on our islands.

It is most important that Malta plans ahead to avoid shortages in this sector. We should try to tap EU funding programmes to avoid shortages in this sector. Malta has a number of SMEs and the majority of financial services companies in Malta are considered as micro companies. Over 50 percent of these companies employ fewer than nine employees and when it comes to recruit suitably qualified employees, they find it much harder than the larger companies.

Finance Malta, together with its affiliate members, has presented a proposal to address these problems in the financial services industry. After consultation with recruitment agencies, they have identified areas which would be classified as hard to fill vacancies. They range from company secretaries to accounting people with management skills, to book keepers through fund and trust managers and even to Chief Financial Officers.

On feedback received from key financial services associations, it is clear that these skills shortages still apply. Besides, there is also a shortfall in the demand for risk management in the insurance sector and with the College of Stockbrokers. Asset managers, investment analysts and fund accountants are other key posts within the finance sector in which there is a skills shortage.

Together with the University of Malta, MCAST and Finance Malta as well as with the aid of EU funding, we are working on an articulated strategy to identify the initiatives that need to be introduced to address the skills shortage of this industry.