The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Leading the way - A tech island... but are we ready?

Monday, 7 October 2019, 09:55 Last update: about 8 days ago

Malta is leaping ahead when it comes to attracting companies focussed on new technology, consistently aiming to attract the next big thing to our small islands.

Igaming, Aviation, then blockchain, and now AI and Esports, it seems the government is driving this country more towards technological based jobs than ever before. This falls in line with the idea of creating quality, high-paying jobs, however if the government isn’t careful all of this will just fall flat.

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‘What do we mean by this’, some may ask. Malta’s educations system is currently facing issues, including teacher shortages, and less than pleasing early-school leaver rates. In addition, many of these companies are not Maltese owned, and expertise in these fields still needs to be imported.

Malta is doing well by targeting tech-based sectors. Malta’s economy has recently been criticised as being based on population growth. Focusing on quality job creation is one way to turn things around, but in order to do so, the education system needs to be geared towards these industries.

Indeed many igaming companies for example still need to employ many foreigners because there just aren’t enough qualified workers. If that is the case with igaming, just imagine the situation in newer tech sectors Malta is targeting like AI. A push is needed to drive students to undertake their studies in fields which will be required by these new sectors.

But there is another problem. More traditional sectors also require manpower, sectors that are required in order for society to function at a basic level. As an example, the very teachers required to educate the next generation need to be in place in order to keep the cycle going... but there is a shortage. Healthcare in Malta needs to keep up with the day-to-day needs of the population... but the system also has employment shortages.

Government’s aim to target higher-paying sectors is to be commended, but it cannot continue to drop the ball on more core issues in these crucial sectors. If there aren’t enough top-quality teachers to educate our youths at secondary level, and if there isn’t a drive to push these youths into this new sectors, then more foreign workers will be required to fill those roles. This will further put pressure on the country’s healthcare infrastructure, transport and housing.

In order to attract more Maltese to become educators and nurses, better pay and conditions would likely be needed. Indeed without larger numbers of nurses and educators, how can the government improve working conditions for those already in the profession?  There are certain core elements within Malta’s economy which are not functioning well, and this creates a worrying situation.

At the same time Malta needs foreign workers at both ends of the stick. It needs employees to fill the gaps in sectors where not enough Maltese opt to undertake a career in, such as tourism and construction, while at the same time will need foreign people with the expertise to teach and lead the sectors Malta is aiming to attract given that not enough local expertise is present. The government needs to try and find a balance, as overpopulation is also an issue that is not just imminent, but is already very much a problem. There are no simple solutions to this problem and it’s a problematic cycle in terms of overpopulation.

Perhaps diversifying the economy to such an extent where there are too many sectors is an issue which, in itself, is also creating problems, as there could be too many sectors with jobs for the Maltese to fill, in an island with limited size, limited space, and wages which struggle to keep up with rising prices.

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