2023 has been designated by the European Commission as the European Year of Skills with the clear objective of empowering people to successfully navigate the labour market changes ahead.  This will ensure that nobody is left behind, economic recovery as well as the green and digital transitions are socially fair and just. A workforce with sought-after skills also contributes to sustainable growth, innovation and strengthens competitiveness.

Over the years UHM Voice of the Workers has been very active in this regard and the setting up of its educational arm in the form of the St Gabriel’s Institute is testament to this. Unfortunately, despite having the infrastructure in place trade unions in Malta are facing various hurdles in the form of bureaucracy, to the point that a course may take up to five years to be rolled out. Notwithstanding, there has also been successes such as the Youth Guarantee Programme and various courses for security officers and bus drivers.

In contrast in Nordic countries, trade unions are a key player in training, to the point that when members become unemployed, they step up their support to seek an immediate return to employment.

The advent of artificial intelligence especially through online applications is one of the major drivers of change. One such example are applications which are capable designing educational courses to the finest detail, thus saving time and costs when compared to the traditional methods whereby one had to commission such job to experts.

Another key aspect which needs to be addressed is the increasing reliance of unskilled foreign workers, especially third country nationals like those from Asia. How can the Maltese economy aspire to make a quality leap if it is increasingly relying on workers, possessing very little training and struggling to communicate even in English? How do we expect Nepalese or Indian workers coming from a rural part of these countries who were never trained to render a service in high-end accommodation, to serve guests in a local four-star hotel?

Apprenticeship is also another area which needs attention. While employers have been complaining of a shortage of workers in certain manual jobs, it is hard to believe that there is absolutely no interest whatsoever by the upcoming Maltese generation to learn skills like plumbing, electric installations, air condition repair and basics of IT installation.  Are we really gearing our educational system to address these shortages by offering attractive career paths?

Ultimately, the common denominator in all these facets is economic vision. For the last decade economic growth thrived on population growth, numbers and consumption. This short-term strategy is taking its toll, with Malta’s infrastructure becoming increasingly under strain and traffic reaching unsustainable levels to the detriment of the environment and the quality of life in general. Hence, this is why there the need for a long-term economic vision based on added value. Unless, the economic focus is shifted, there can be no fertile ground to improve the skills of our workforce.