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Full use of our human resources


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Last week I participated in a discussion organised by the Malta Business Bureau. The discussion was about labour and skills shortages, especially in the context of initiatives being taken by the EU such as the EU Talent Pool and the Quality Traineeships Initiative. Labour and skills shortages feature highly among the concerns of employers in Malta. However, the issue does not only concern Malta.

The fact that the European Commission has presented an action plan to tackle labour and skills shortages and proposes to work together with member states and social partners to address these issues over the coming months and years is proof that the issue is not circumscribed to Malta. It affects most EU member states, even if in different forms and sizes. In large countries there are areas with very low unemployment but also areas with high unemployment. There are countries that have a graduate unemployment problem and others which do not.

The objective of the EU is to boost the competitiveness of businesses operating in the Union, while enhancing social and economic resilience. I strongly believe there needs to be a balance between economic resilience and social resilience. Looking at one and excluding the other will be a recipe for disaster.

There is a variety of reasons why Malta and the EU are experiencing labour and skills shortages. These include a decreasing birth rate, an ageing population, a mismatch of skills, uneven economic growth and social changes brought about by the coronavirus.

2024 has been named the ‘European Year of Skills’. This indicates the determination of the EU to address this challenge. However, we need to ask if we have addressed this challenge correctly. We need to ask if there are internal issues − within countries and within businesses − which could be exacerbating the problem of labour shortages.

Employers need to appreciate that there is great value in employing older workers

Focusing on Malta, I ask whether employers and policymakers are too blinded by stereotypes. Given that there is a shortage of labour and of skills, are we making good use of older persons, women and neurodivergent individuals? Are we tied up to academic qualifications in our selection process?

Given that we have a longer life expectancy and advances in the medical field, employers need to appreciate that there is great value in employing older workers. On the other hand, are the rules related to social security contributions and taxation rules serving as a disincentive to persons to work after they reach the age when they can claim a pension?

I understand there is a limit to the extent of accommodation which employers may afford to give to their employees, but with such a labour and skills shortage, should employers make a greater effort with regard to women and neurodivergent persons? Could it be that some employers are asking for qualifications which may after all not be required for the job in question? Or have some employers become reliant on the lower wages they pay to third-country nationals?

There are other aspects which need to be looked into, such as support for employers, the role of training in an enterprise, the promotion of apprenticeships, career guidance and public sector employment. They all point to one thing – I believe we are not making full use of our human resources.

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