Educate, train and retrain

According to the Labour Force Survey youth unemployment in the Under 29-year bracket stands at a staggering 48% when compared to 38% in the EU27.

One third (35%) of our under-25s are unemployed.

How often have we heard the mantra that human capital is crucial to growth and job creation?  It is said to be crucial in the design of innovative products and processes, in maximising customer bases, in winning new markets.

Entrepreneurs and trade unions agree that a skilled workforce is a key component when foreign investors decide where to put their money. But how effective are policies and programmes when it comes to putting this mantra into practice?

The EU's Lisbon Agenda, religiously adopted by the Nationalist government in Malta, had emphasised the need to make sure that education and training systems respond to labour market needs. Our National Strategic Reference Timeframe, published with much pomp in 2006 and as most other reports promptly put on the shelf to gather dust, had rightly seen investment in skills as a strategic driver of future growth.

Even the EU Commission considers government's targets to get more young people into education and training as being too modest and still allow many young people to go to waste.

It's not that there has been no such investment. But in Malta, as in too many other EU Member States, education and training outputs are increasingly disconnected from labour market needs. At regular intervals we have heard Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi boast that the economy is doing so well that there are hundreds of job vacancies. Yet, nearly half of those under the age of 29 are unemployed.

New hope

There is absolutely no doubt among employment and education experts that this is partly because of the negative image of vocational education and training, and early school leaving. In Malta apprenticeships are clearly under-used. A positive example has been set by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the UK. In these innovative countries more than 20% of the working age population participates in education and training.

It is therefore heartening that Labour leader Joseph Muscat recently said that, as part of its education and employment strategy, a Labour government would aim to provide the best education at higher secondary institutions, ITS and MCAST.  An interesting commitment was that those unable to find a job within six months of ending obligatory education would be provided with training based on employment and abilities. He also said that "services" would also be provided for those who would have stopped attending school before they reached the age of 16.

Education and training systems must be reformed. These reforms should include close cooperation between companies, employers' organisations and educational and training institutions. Students must be supported to make an informed choice based on clear information regarding career opportunities in different sectors and professions.  And reforms must be made to stop measuring the level of education in terms of years spent in schools, but in terms of competences and skills actually acquired.

University education

A report on the European Higher Education Area to review the implementation of the Bologna Process in Education published on 25 April 2012 shows that Malta is still at the bottom of the heap with only 8.9% of 18- to 34-year-olds with a University education.

All other European countries featured in the report have more people with a university education, including countries like Cyprus with 13.3% and Iceland with 15.2%.

The two countries with the biggest number of people with a university education are Lithuania with 23% and Finland 22%.

The report shows that while the participation of 18 to 34 year olds in tertiary education in Malta has increased from 6.6% in 1999 to 8.9% in 2009, the rise has been very slow from 2004 to 2009. The rate of 18- to 34-year-olds at University increased by 1.5% between 1999 and 2004 but by only 0.8% between 2004 and 2009.


Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education.


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