9 - 15 May, 2001

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Angelo Xuereb on worker shortage
AX Holdings Chairman, Angelo Xuereb, speaking to The Business Times highlighted the employment woes currently facing the construction industry.

Given today’s circumstances, Mr Xuereb warns that the situation will only be aggravated with the onset of government and private projects both already underway and in the pipeline.

He explained that, while preference is always given to Maltese workers, if this shortage continues, the industry would have no other option but to turn to foreign workers.
He explains, "However, we have to remember the employment of a few foreigners in the construct industry will serve to generate work to the related trades, where many Maltese work."
Mr Xuereb cites among the problems in securing local workers to work in the industry the fact that such workers are migrating to other industries, successive administrations’ bid to increase the standard of living, new construction systems that Maltese workers are not trained to use and the fact that construction trade training in schools is in a state of utter neglect.
He explains that these difficulties are being faced by all the main contractors operating in Malta's construction industry.
He explains, "The decrease in construction activity which has been witnessed over the last five years resulted in construction workers migrating to other industries. Now that the industry is picking up momentum once more, this movement of labour supply is being felt."
Explaining his views on how each successive administration has endeavoured to increase the standard of living for the citizens, Mr Xuereb emphasises that youths are therefore being automatically attracted to jobs in other industries.
"As happened in other developed countries, Malta is now facing the situation where low-income trades have to be supplied with foreign workers. Furthermore, parents usually do not wish to see their children joining the ‘industry of hardship,’ the label given by many to the construction industry.
However, technology itself has compounded the problem in that great improvements in tools and construction systems have been achieved during the last few years. According to Mr Xuereb, "We now have the situation where large contractors have invested significant sums in new systems but there are no local workers trained to work on these systems, especially form work. We must therefore import foreign workers to work on these systems and at the same time to transfer their know-how to local workers.
"The shortage in local construction workers is already being felt today. This shortage will aggravate further when large infrastructural projects, such as Cottonera, Manoel Island and Tigne', the Sea Passenger Terminal and the Valletta City Gate, get in full swing. There are also a number of large private developments in the pipeline."
Mr Xuereb contends that training in the construction trades is currently in utter neglect without a single person being trained at school to take up work in construction. He explains, "We encourage that there should be more training. The Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors (FOBC) is currently working closely with the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) to create the type of training needed in the construction industry. We encourage youths to join this industry which has changed a lot for the better during recent years."
"There is also a great shortage in qualified personnel in the construction industry. In this regard, the University of Malta should consider the creation of courses to produce graduates in project management construction management and other similar careers.
"The industry will then at least be able to find qualified persons and not have to rely mostly on workers we have come up through the ranks over a long number of years."
Making reference to the now infamous interviewing incident at the ETC, he explains, "The scarcity in the supply of local construction workers was confirmed during the last few weeks when together with other main contractors, we interviewed 590 unemployed persons registering at the ETC to find work in the construction industry.
"The outcome of the interviews was as follows: 177 did not even bother to attend the interview, 252 were found to be unsuitable for work in the construction industry, while the remaining 161 could be considered to take up work in this industry. Together with the other contractors, we are now gradually sending for those identified as possibly being appropriate for the construction industry to assess better their suitability.
Unfortunately we are encountering the same problems we met during the initial interviews once more, i.e. many just do not turn up or state that they do not want work in the construction industry. At the end of the whole process we hope to find a handful of persons really willing to give the construction industry a try, at least!"David Lindsay reporting


The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt