Closing the skills gap for growth

It is an illusion to think that sustainable economic growth can be achieved by rapid solutions to the structural weaknesses of the factors of production. Malta’s labor market weaknesses have been known to policy makers for some time. Recent economic growth has not been achieved primarily by improving the skills base of Maltese workers.

Employers are now beginning to voice their concerns about the long-term risks of ignoring the structural flaws in our labor market, the education system, and the mindsets of students and business leaders.

The government and many companies want more liberal policies for importing skilled and unskilled workers. Yet the solutions to closing the skills gap must be sought through other difficult strategies that will take time to yield results.

Joseph Farrugia, CEO of the Malta Employers’ Association, sent a clear message to all stakeholders at a seminar held at Parliament in Valletta. He argued: “We need to strengthen our capital investments so that the new economic activity does not necessarily require more resources but perhaps different and adapted skills.

For too long, Malta’s education system has ranked among the worst performers in the EU. The political rhetoric of various ministers of education over the past two or three decades has generally produced only poor results.

He failed to recognize that the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires our education system to create the conditions for young people to acquire relevant and essential skills at all stages of education and training.

A paradigm shift in educational thinking is needed to foster creativity, entrepreneurship and mobility in education and training at all levels. Policy makers will argue that this change is already embedded in our education strategies.

This may indeed be the case with regard to the documentation of the strategy process.

But many who work in the coal of our education system know, for example, that investing in skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, from primary to higher education and lifelong learning life, is still insufficient for the needs of the country.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering school today will be working in jobs that don’t yet exist. To prepare future generations for this daunting challenge, we must accurately identify the future skills needed that will help today’s youth acquire the jobs that the economy will create.

A skills assessment is the first step in encouraging and motivating individuals to take responsibility for developing their skills.

Employees also have a role to play in bridging the skills gap. They are jointly responsible with their employers for the management of future change. Young people leaving school need to adopt an attitude towards lifelong learning, as this is crucial for them to be able to manage their careers appropriately.

Academics will continue to argue that education is not just about improving students’ employability skills.

Meanwhile, employers recognize that theoretical knowledge is not enough for future employees. Our educational system must allow students to demonstrate that they can use the knowledge acquired in the real world of work.

Career guidance is an area that needs to be improved by encouraging greater cooperation between business, students and policy makers.

Investing in human resources is not similar to investing in raw materials or capital goods. The aim is to make human potential and talent a decisive factor in economic growth, improved productivity and sustainable jobs.

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