EU funds for employment training and beyond

BusisnesToday has learned that by the end of 2018, 2,500 persons were supported through the EU-funded Investing in skills scheme

EU funds parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia (first left) said that investment in businesses needs to be balanced out by investing heavily in the workforce
EU funds parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia (first left) said that investment in businesses needs to be balanced out by investing heavily in the workforce

By the end of last year, over 2,500 persons were supported through the EU-funded Investing in Skills (IIS) scheme, BUSINESS TODAY has learnt.

IIS is intended to promote access to training of persons actively participating in the Maltese Labour market, with a view to increasing productivity and enhancing adaptability.

EU funds parliamentary secretary Aaron Farrugia said that investment in businesses needs to be balanced out by heavily investing in the workforce, allowing it to properly adjust to market needs and tackle any issues of labour shortages.

As local enterprises -- which are also being supported through EU funds -- are becoming more competitive, innovative, and more resilient to market changes, so should our workforce, Farrugia explained. This is being done through training schemes such as the IIS.

This scheme seeks to increase and improve the knowledge and skills of employed persons through funds granted by this scheme.  

Eligible applicants cover all employers having an economic activity irrespective of their legal form -- these include partnerships, companies, family businesses, associations, individual self-employed or other body of persons, NGOs and Social Partners. NGOs and Social Partners not having an economic activity are also eligible to benefit from the scheme.

With a budget of €5 million, this scheme falls under Malta’s Operational Programme II of the European Social Fund - ‘Investing in human capital to create more opportunities and promote the well-being of society’ for the 2014-2020 programming period.

660 grant agreements are signed with a total value of over €1 million.

Government is acting as a platform to support a future entrepreneurial Malta, ready to drive the country’s digital transformation in a world of hyper-innovation. This brings challenges with it, as workers need to quick to adapt and well-equipped for the demands of new and evolving markets.

“Malta has worked hard to make good use of EU funds for job creation and economic growth. It has successfully capitalised on funding opportunities to equip our workforce for an ever-changing arena, and this scheme is an example of that,” Farrugia said.

Last year, Farrugia announced a €11 million EU investment in projects related to vocational education and training, with the aim of preparing the workforce with the necessary skills and guarantee that young people in particular are involved in employment, training or apprenticeship – thereby also decreasing the number of early school leavers.

There is no doubt about Malta’s excellent use of EU funds: last month, the European Commission praised our country’s management of such funds on a number of occasions. It therefore comes as no surprised that EU funds and EU-funded projects have contributed significantly to the economic and financial sustainability of Malta’s growing economy.

“Whether it is through the €30 million we are investing in SMEs, the €20 million we are investing in research and development, the Kappara and Marsa Junction, financial instruments in loans and guarantees or the ESF funds for the reskilling and upskilling of our workforce, they all contribute to Malta’s economic growth,” Farrugia said.

“For the next EU budget post-2020, we are planning for these programmes to be more simplified and more flexible.”

Moreover, businesses will be prioitised in the next EU budget. Last week, Farrugia told this newspaper that the next funding framework will offer less tape and make it simpler to claim payments using simplified cost options.

He also said that apart from the business-related infrastructural projects, current funding and absorption rates indicate that Malta has already benefited strongly from EU funding directly targeting business and SME development.

These include grants administered by the local managing authorities and entities such as Malta Enterprise, covering areas such as setting-up expenses for start-ups, research and development, innovation and digitalisation support such as e-commerce, and expansion.

Taking further pointers from current funding, there are a number of local success stories which indicate that the local entrepreneurial spirit is very resilient and eager to innovate – as a result, local businesses look up to EU funds as a way of investing further in their competitiveness.

Innovation for local SMES ranges from new knowledge to new marketing practices, as well as management approaches.

The EU impact on Malta’s jobs and growth needs to be taken into context, Farrugia explained.

“Between 2008 and 2012, we were losing 1,500 jobs annually in the manufacturing sector. This would have eroded our manufacturing industry within 15 years. Since 2013, not only has the industry stabilised, but there has been an increase of 7,000 persons working in manufacturing, reaching almost 13% of the gainfully employed and almost 20% of our GDP,”

“EU funds aside, the country has made massive leaps in industries: the 15 largest ones have expanded – ST, De La Rue, Baxter, Playmobil, Trelleborg, Lufthansa and SR Technics, among others. We also attracted new ones – Crane Currency, the Indian pharmaceutical company Aurobindo, Alvogen from Iceland, Shanghai Electric, the Queen Mary Bart medical school, CHEMI Pharma and Sterling Chemicals from Italy, Pharos from Greece... I could go on.”

Farrugia said that new sectors, innovation, and hi-tech enablement were given priority by this government. In fact, Malta is well on its way to becoming a leader in blockchain, fintech, and other digital sectors. It is now looking at expanding on AI by studying ways of how we can have a bespoke set of regulations and legislation for this sector as well.

“Sectors such as logistics and value-added logistics, Life Sciences, medical cannabis have also continued to contribute to growth. Our industry today is technology-driven and finds it competitive advantage in quality, speed of delivery through Malta’s well-established connectivity, excellent English-speaking workforce and above all stability; political, economic and industrial… industrial litigation has been next to nil,” Farrugia said.

“Speak to any foreign investor in Malta and they would immediately tell you that their success is underpinned by the excellent workforce... further proving that we need to continue investing in this valuable resource.”

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