27 January 2005

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Lm2mn programme for training of over 40's
• jointly funded by European Social Fund and government

Some 400 jobseekers aged over 40 stand to benefit from a scheme launched Tuesday by the Employment and Training Corporation.   TEES – the Training and Employment Exposure Scheme – will also benefit employers, as it bears the cost of training and work placements for a 52-week period for each job seeker.
The scheme will be funded through the European Social Fund (ESF) and the government of Malta to the tune of over EUR4.6 million.
Launching the TEES scheme at the McNeill factory in Hal Far Tuesday,   Education, Youth and Employment Minister Louis Galea explains, “The Ministry of Education Youth and Employment is a major beneficiary of the ESF funds with 15 out of the 25 Maltese projects falling under this Ministry.   Out of the EUR11.2 million that will be spent on ESF projects in Malta, over EUR9.1 million will be used to part-fund these 15 projects which are mainly aimed at improving the Employability and Adaptability of Maltese workers, Lifelong Learning and Social Inclusion.   Another EUR2.7m will go towards infrastructural development at MCAST and ETC.”
Speaking at Tuesday's event, McNeill Production Director Joe Montebello said that when businesses restructure there is a tendency to put older workers in the spotlight.   The implications of employing or retaining employees over 40 tend to take a quantitative approach, rather than a qualitative one. The issue of health, stamina and willingness are more often than not put forward as barriers for not employing persons in this age bracket. The expertise, maturity and other valid attributes that these people possess are given lesser importance.
Dr Galea explained how the TEES seeks to implement one of the ten guidelines in Malta's National Action Plan, to provide active and preventive services to unemployed persons.   In the Plan, government committed itself to go beyond providing financial support to jobseekers, and to promote their longer-term interests through schemes and services that strengthen their employability.   TEES may be seen as a major example of this commitment, seeking in addition to promote equal opportunities for older jobseekers and for women, Minister Galea said, adding that this and other initiatives were all being taken in a bid to continue to improve the skills of our country's workforce and therefore its competitiveness on the global market.
TEES will run for two years, amounting to a cost of EUR5 million, 75 per cent of which has been granted under the European Social Fund under the Structural Funds Programme for Malta 2004 – 2006.   The first four weeks of the scheme cover core skills training and aptitude testing, followed by 24 weeks of intensive training in particular skills and a subsequent 22 weeks of work exposure with an employer.
Training will occur in areas where employers have identified skills shortages.
The costs of both the training and work phases are borne by the scheme.   A managing company has been appointed to administer the scheme and to disburse the funds to jobseekers and employers in the respective phases.
The scheme will be mandatory for jobseekers and those who leave the scheme without a good and sufficient reason will have to refund the difference between the wages received under the scheme and the social benefits they would otherwise have been entitled to.   Previous experience, however, is positive.   It is hoped that the success of similar previous schemes may be repeated, where over half of such scheme participants were retained in employment after the scheme ended.
Tuesday's host, McNeill Ltd., began operations in May 1989 producing schoolbags, backpacks, sport bags, shoe bags, pencil cases and other products related to school and leisure. McNeill's high quality products, both in design and materials enjoy a leading position in the German market. Strong emphasis is made on the ergonomic features on the bag and also safety standards are incorporated in the design thus making the products both attractive and safe to carry. The company keeps abreast with the knowledge of the latest developments in materials and designs to maintain its leading edge in the market.
Weekly exports leave Malta to the German distribution centre the products are distributed to clients in Germany, Benelux-countries, Austria, Switzerland, and Scandinavia and also to Far Eastern countries. Over the span of 15 years due to yearly increasing demand for McNeill's high quality products, the need for larger production area was felt. This need saw the company's production facilities expand by 850m 2 in 1992 and by another 1,000m 2 in 1997 at Hal-Far Industrial Estate.
The workforce mainly consists of females with an average age of 31 years. Complimentary to the 130 full-time employees are a group of about 15 persons from the Foundation Dar il-Wens, who have been giving their services for almost 13 years.

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