Concerted effort needed

The real problem is that too many young people are pushed down an educational route that is not right for them, primarily because there was no other option

We must identify the skills and talents in each of us, to ensure that our society is well geared for the twenty-first century. In one way or another we all have potential – the potential to succeed and to contribute to the welfare of successful companies and businesses. This is why we need to develop skills and to prepare our youngsters for the challenges that lie ahead.

Technological change is increasing at a very fast pace. This situation has created new demands on both employers and workers and our training systems need re-thinking. We need to introduce a new approach to a skills policy which will take into account the ever changing needs of the labour market.

This requires a concerted effort by those involved in vocational education, training providers, employers and trade unions. We have often stressed the importance of having our youths in education, training or employment but words alone are simply not enough. Our education system needs to put more emphasis on the employability of our youths after their school years, because as it is we tend to focus far more on their educational curriculum rather than on developing the skills that are linked to the progression into good jobs. Too often, this system fails to meet the interests of both the students and employers.

Sometimes, not enough value is placed on attitudes and behaviour. Our youngsters need to learn more about life skills and about what is required of them as an adult. It is not worth keeping them in education for the sake of staying in a classroom, we must ensure that we generate enough enthusiasm to turn education into a lifelong experience.

There are several key problems in our skills system. First of all there seems to be a damaging divide between educational and vocational education. We tend to push students to a purely academic route but in reality a substantial number do not succeed. There is a perception that those who do not pursue further academic education are marginalised.

But the real problem is that too many young people are pushed down an educational route that is not right for them, primarily because there was no other option. We should emphasise that vocational and academic learning are but two parallel paths of education. Young students need a mix of educational and vocational learning and this will give the country a solid base for the future.

There are also low levels of employer involvement in the skills system. A comprehensive skills policy is not just about the education system and it should be seen in the context of the labour market that is important for the continued improvement of our economy.

At the same time we cannot neglect core academic subjects such as English, Mathematics and Maltese and the teaching of these core subjects within a more vocational setting and in the context of the world of work is essential. Currently too many youngsters who have struggled in formal education fail to reach basic levels in these subjects.

The UK Labour Party had set up a Skills Taskforce to provide policy advice and recommendations. An interim report published recently, highlighted a number of themes and explored key questions.

The review dealt with curriculum issues about what young people learn between the ages of 14 and 19 and this report makes it clear that the curriculum should meet four important criteria – a core of learning for all, ensuring high levels of numeracy and literacy, an entitlement to programmes of study and that young people should all undertake work experience and community activity.

This report dealt in depth with the low levels of employer involvement in the skills system and that only a few employers are involved and committed to high quality training.

Another key issue is the fragmented education system and that there is an increasing level of competition between schools rather than collaboration. One of the more important themes emphasised in this report is: Training and Apprenticeships. This has raised important questions about the need for a new vision for Further Education, about the lack of quality apprenticeships as well as the shortage of good quality information and advice on which students can navigate the transition between education and work.  

We are actively working on a new vision for Further Education. We need an invigorating role for further education in the local economy, centred on the delivery of quality education and training that meets the needs of employers. We need to strengthen links with industry representatives to provide a platform for an active role in course design and to keep the industry informed about course content and structure.

In recent years apprenticeships became fewer and fewer. Apprenticeships almost became an unfashionable word, now it has again become indispensable. It is now one of the flagships of EU policy for youths. Several countries adopt a vocational orientation system or placements and in some cases students receive an assessment of their skills, with suggestions on courses and careers.

But there still is a lack of high quality apprenticeships. Here in Malta we have started by introducing training experiences in some specialised areas and we welcome the initiative some industries have undertaken to set up their own training centre. We must meet the skills challenge and plan for the medium and long-term needs of our economy. This is how we will ensure success in the years to come.