More jobs, higher skills

A strong economy also means that our young people who are in education or training know they have opportunities

We’re a rare breed. Most countries are downsizing and cutting costs, especially our neighbours
We’re a rare breed. Most countries are downsizing and cutting costs, especially our neighbours

In 1981, as a reporter for the national broadcaster, I was asked to rush off to the airport because a Malta Development Corporation official was arriving from Rome with the news that SGS (Società Generale Semiconduttori) was coming to Malta to open a new plant.

At that time, I think very few people knew what a large investment it was going to be. Not only was there going to be a major plant in Kirkop but in a short time SGS would become the country’s largest employer and its biggest exporter.

Manufacturing has always been a strong part of our economy. In recent years it was not seen in a good light for all the wrong reasons, not just in Malta but elsewhere in Europe. It was seen as a sector more suited to third world countries, an argument which exposes a lack of basic understanding of the sector. A manufacturing job is today a high-end job. Most of the work in manufacturing requires advanced technical, IT and engineering skills. With economies always verging towards the services industry, manufacturing and the creation of goods are seen as a welcome diversification for many countries.

The $100 million investment by Crane Currency unveiled earlier this week, and the creation of 300 places of work, is a feather in the cap of this government. It’s another milestone for our economy and the fact that it originates from the United States sits well with a global palette of investors from across the world: Jordan, UK, China, India and Germany among many others. Europe is our home but we should never be afraid of looking outwards across the oceans to find economic partners and investors. This country has a rich history of being adaptable and efficient in this regard. The successes we’ve seen, and the millions of euros pouring into Malta as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), are not the merit of one individual but a government effort. Malta Enterprise is doing a fantastic job and the results are for all to be seen.

However, we will not be resting on our laurels. The ball is in our court to deliver effective educational programmes for our young people, and retrain people already in the workforce, so that these jobs from Crane Currency and many other companies are taken up.

These investments are a showcase for an economy that has beaten all odds. Malta is surrounded by countries in deep economic difficulties yet our perseverance to strengthen our country is undeterred. A good economy benefits everyone. As I attend council meetings of Education Ministers in Brussels, I form part of a very small number of Education Ministers whose educational budget has increased in size in recent years. We’re a rare breed. Most countries are downsizing and cutting costs, especially our neighbours. They’re cutting costs not because they have an anti-education agenda, far from it, but because of financial necessity. 

Their hand is forced because growth and investment have dried up. On the contrary, we’re experiencing record growth and positive reports from the EU and beyond. And things are looking increasingly well. A strong economy means more investment in education, healthcare, infrastructure and transport. It means the government does not need to raise taxes or increase electricity bills.

A strong economy also means that our young people who are in education or training know they have opportunities. An EU skills forecast for 2025 for Malta states that 53% of new jobs will require higher skills than at present. We need to make sure that our young people coming out of their tertiary education have these high skills that go beyond technical competence and knowledge. They also include attitudes and values like honesty, problem solving, teamwork, creativity, ability to live with others from a different culture... that are needed also for democratic citizenship and not just at the workplace.

You can have a lot of talent but without opportunities your path is considerably harder. This is why we will continue investing in our young people and in educational programmes which grow the individual and meet the realities of industry, the economy and society at large.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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