Progress that includes everyone

The economic changeover which technology brought about needs to align itself with structured training and educational programmes

We must provide people with the tools and possibilities of re-training and widen the educational options for young people
We must provide people with the tools and possibilities of re-training and widen the educational options for young people

As countries around Europe battle high unemployment rates and skills gap, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) is fast becoming one of the most important organisations in the development of policies which help get young people into education and jobs. 

Led by fellow Maltese, and in my case a former colleague at the Education Ministry, Prof. James Calleja, CEDEFOP helps in policy-making relating to vocational education and educational systems, labour market forecasts as well as in co-ordinating good practices among EU member states.

Europe often fails to communicate and explain success stories such as CEDEFOP, whereby European countries come together and help each other in the development of policies, not as economic competitors, but as countries with common goals. Across Europe there is a major issue – businesses need more people with specific skill-sets whilst on the other side of the spectrum there are huge numbers of idle people without those same skill-sets. It sounds simple but that’s actually what it is. You may see it at your place of work, as it’s quite common. Skills such as IT and engineering are increasingly hard to come by, and in Malta this is as true as it is in Europe.

CEDEFOP has been an ally in Malta’s development of improved vocational options in the local education system. The people in the organisation understand one of the holy commandments of education systems: it’s never a case of copying a successful system from elsewhere and copying it on the local level. Many look at vocational systems in Finland and Germany and tell us, but why don’t we do exactly like them? It’s not as simple as that. The social, economic and technical environments are completely different. However, Malta can learn from these experiences, take from them the things it can adapt and mould them into a personalised successful system fit for the local environment.

In Malta, we no longer talk about unemployment. The country has been extremely successful, over the past two years, in substantially decreasing unemployment and youth unemployment. It’s now among the best performers in Europe. However, this does not mean we must rest on our laurels. There are still challenges ahead and the skills gap is certainly around the top of the list. 

We must provide people with the tools and possibilities of re-training and widen the educational options for young people, and vocational education will be playing a key role in this. At a time when local business operators are constantly requesting more workers, we cannot afford to have people in an idle situation, or possibly underemployed. 

Skills gap and underemployment is certainly a European challenge and we must address it. Failure to do so will result in long-term social and economic issues, especially certain hardships which will bring social upheaval. It ultimately boils down to financial equity and decreasing the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in our societies.  

These are concerns which have already cropped up across the western world. They are the result of a section of society which is feeling marginalized and disenfranchised at the lack of opportunities. Britain and the US know a thing or two about this line of thought. Their votes might feel an extremist one, but their concerns are human, genuine and understandable. They want work, opportunities and a decent shot at a proper standard of living.

Re-training people who have obsolete skills and equipping our youths with the right ones is the first step to address these issues. The economic changeover which technology brought about needs to align itself with structured training and educational programmes, especially vocational ones, which can help people increase their economic value. Nobody should be left behind as our societies progress – and these programmes are the key to that.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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