How vocational education is transforming our country

Malta is the land of second chances - and we hope to make it the land of the third and fourth chances as well in education in the coming years

Changes in the education system mean there’s never a dead end
Changes in the education system mean there’s never a dead end

The ages of 20 and 34 years old are very important in the cycle of an individual because they are the foundation for the development of one’s life. Lowering youth unemployment, and aiming to effectively engage as many of Europe’s young people as possible in the world of work, is a very important part of national and European policymaking.

The economic crisis has led to high levels of youth unemployment and a lot of disengagement among young people. You see this in places like the UK, Spain, Italy and Greece. The younger generation are angry, and they’re right to be so. In this context, researchers and governments have sought new ways of monitoring and analysing the prevalence of labour market vulnerability and disengagement among young people.

The answer to all this is NEET. Like most European acronyms, they seem odd but the term is used to describe young people not in employment, education or training. The concept has been widely used as an indicator to inform youth-oriented policies on employability, education, training and also social inclusion in the 28 EU Member States since 2010.

In many ways the NEET indicator is, directly and indirectly, an indicator of youth disengagement and alignment with the rest of society. When a young person sees no future in himself or herself, it's a disaster waiting to happen. The Japanese call it Hikikomori. When one does not have productive work and is not learning anything, especially at that age where intensity is usually at its peak, it can lead to a build-up of a lot of negative things, including social withdrawal. These circumstances are very important to address and this is why it’s given so much important on the continent, because of its high prevalence.

In Europe, one in six young people are not in employment or education. This is quite high considering Europe is among the leading economic forces. In tangible numbers this results in a total of 15 million young people. This is an alarming number, and one would have to talk about having a crisis at hand on a European level. Imagine having so many young people who are idle that make up more than the populations of Ireland, Finland and Norway combined.

It gets worse. In Italy - one of the leading economies in Europe and in the world - the rate is 29%. Almost one in three young people are idle: not in a job and not getting any sort of education or training. In Greece this is slightly lower, at 27% followed by Bulgaria (21%), Romania (21%) and Slovakia (20%). This shows how much work there is in front of us in the coming years as a continent.

How does Malta fare?

Only Sweden, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have a lower NEET rate than Malta in Europe. Malta scores a relatively low 10%. Malta is the land of second chances - and we hope to make it the land of the third and fourth chances as well in education in the coming years. We want to give people opportunity, and the changes in the education system means there’s never a dead-end. Even with regard to those people who are more inclined into technical jobs, we want to make sure we provide appropriate training and education programmes that fit their needs. It is not, and should not be, about going to University or going home. The world is big and the different qualities and abilities of individuals merit a wide menu of opportunities.

The report, penned by the EU agency CEDEFOP (again with the acronyms), highlights the work on the vocational front that Malta has been undertaking. Malta has the highest level of satisfaction with vocational education in Europe. If that is not a success, considering the distance that we’ve come, I don’t know what is. The report states that the Maltese have a strong belief that vocational education and training strengthens the economy and plays an important role in fighting unemployment. The prospects for this type of education are also very encouraging.

All this means we don’t have a big problem like other countries, but these numbers still mean there is a challenge at hand. This is why we need to be ambitious in our objectives in the education and employment sectors. We have a system that is, in some shape or form, delivering something back to young people in 90% of the cases. We have to continue asking what we can do to reach that 10% and make sure we provide the opportunities for them to have a future. Not only must there be an opportunity, but they must also be in a position to access it. So this is not something that education, on its own, can deliver, but it has to be a joint effort with other important work in the social and personal spheres.