Editorial | It’s education… stupid!

The emphasis of labour policy in the coming years will be on improving worker skills and to do so a whole-society approach is required to imbue the importance of education


Economic growth over the past seven years was accompanied by an exponential increase in the number of foreign workers.

Foreign labour was not only necessary to fill jobs that were shunned by Maltese workers but to plug shortages in every sector of the economic rainbow.

From the construction sector to waste management, from waiters to accountants, from nurses to carers, from shop assistants to gaming employees, every sector of the economy saw an influx of foreign workers.

And this influx happened at the same time that government policies encouraged more women and people on social services to join the labour market.

Economic growth created the need for a bigger workforce to be able to meet the growing demands of a society that wanted to improve its quality of life.

This sudden influx of foreign workers, some of whom came over with their families and settled here, also created problems in the housing market and placed pressure on the country’s infrastructure.

But a blanket ban or severe restrictions on foreign labour are not an option because it would be like applying the hand break to a fast-moving car.

The analysis accompanying the National Employment Policy 2021-2030 released by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana this week makes it clear that foreign labour will continue to be needed.

The first reason is demographic. Malta’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the EU and this is contributing to an aging Maltese workforce.

Unless this workforce is replenished by foreign workers, the labour market will experience serious gaps and this will impact the economy.

Another reason is the lack of skills within the Maltese workforce that forces employers to seek expertise abroad.

Solving demographic issues is not something that can be achieved easily and immediately. Even if government introduces incentives for people to have more babies, and assuming people do respond to them, the result will only be felt in 20 to 25 years’ time.

This is why Malta must embrace a situation where foreign labour is imported to fill gaps and support the quality of life people have come to expect.

Introducing new medical services in hospital can only happen if the country has more nurses and doctors. A dwindling Maltese population can only produce so much of these in a year, which is why foreign professionals will be required. The same holds true for other sectors.

However, what the new policy does recognise is the need to have a clear picture of the true needs of the market so that employers do not import foreign workers with the express intent of undermining labour conditions.

The second aspect concerns the skills required by the market. The Finance Minister has made a strong and passionate case for Maltese students to continue studying.

Half of students exiting 11 years of compulsory education do not have six O Levels, some have a poor grip of Maltese, English and maths, making them uncompetitive in the jobs market.

A lack of education and a consequent lack of skills will simply condemn most of these children to a life in low paid jobs with no or very little prospects of advancing up the wage ladder.

On average, Maltese workers spend 16 years in education before joining the labour market. In Ireland, this average is 20 years, which means that students continue to study and train to improve their skill sets, giving them better wage prospects.

The emphasis of labour policy in the coming years will be on improving worker skills and to do so a whole-society approach is required to imbue the importance of education.

More in People