The Malta Independent 7 December 2019, Saturday

Skills for the New Economy

Silvio Schembri Sunday, 3 November 2019, 09:12 Last update: about 2 months ago

The world of work is changing very quickly, while we watch – so quickly, in fact, that today’s schools and universities must be able to train people for careers that have not yet even been invented.

The breathtaking rate of change of technology and the astounding dynamism of the digital economy must mean that the time is ripe for a paradigm shift in the way we evaluate the current and future needs of the labour market. The traditional linear model, which assumes that early formal qualifications and a steady, one-dimensional career path are optimal skills proxies for determining job-fit, is no longer relevant.

In the Future of Jobs survey during the World Economic Forum of 2018, business leaders were asked to state what share of core skills of jobs within their enterprises would change between 2018 and 2022. Their response was that, on average, the core skills required to perform most roles would change by 42 per cent. This statistic shakes to the core our current notions of how to match individuals to opportunities.

It is now more essential than ever for employees to constantly update their skill sets if they are to remain relevant. Employers need to find new approaches to recruitment and development in response to greater job market volatility, and schools and universities need to revamp their programmes. These dynamics need more precise skills indicators in support of a more effective learning and employment ecosystem. 

In March this year, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation launched the National eSkills Strategy 2019-2021. On that occasion, I announced that this strategy made Malta the first EU member state to have a national strategy for digital skills. It was our first step towards a total system overhaul that will eventually move away from the traditional proxy-based system to a more skills-based one, just as skills become ever more the core currency of the labour market. 

One key way in which the government’s vision addresses the move towards a skills-based approach is a recommendation to adopt a three-year rolling plan. This will enable the strategic direction pursued to retain full relevance on an annual basis. It will ensure that existing inefficiencies in job-fit between an enterprise and workers are tackled effectively and will enable us to anticipate and respond to rapid changes in the labour market. It will have the effect of enhancing opportunities for workers, as well as promoting prosperity and equality. 

Such a radical transformation of the current mould, cast as it is in the rigid linear life model mentioned previously, will undoubtedly present huge challenges. Our modus operandi is to foster collaboration and coordination across multiple stakeholders, such as within the eSkills Malta Foundation, Tech.mt and GamingMalta. We believe that the benefits of such collaborations for workers, for businesses and for the country can be huge.

Understanding such a system is to accept that any meaningful trading in the digital economy must be in skills rather than in dangerously ill-conceived skills proxy variables. The impact of mismatches on business can be wasteful at best, catastrophic at worst. For this reason, the national strategy further envisages skills training for SMEs in terms of applied emerging technologies for economic growth. It focuses on developing local talent among our youth, and emphasises participation, in lieu of consumption, of technology.

The urgency for the move to a skills-based system is underlined by market demand for both digital and human, or soft, competences. This aspect should not be underestimated, because comprehending and meeting the demand for new skills means that workers must feel empowered to learn, unlearn and relearn. This shared vision for initiative and talent is the fundamental principle of a new learning and working environment that will enable us to part company with an archaic certificates-based outlook in favour of a lifelong learning mindset based on infinitely more meaningful and useful indicators.

In my speech at the launch of the eskills strategy, I further explained that government is paving the way for the enhancing of our digital skills as a nation. The strategy ultimately prepares for the challenges ahead in an ever-evolving digital scenario, having as a backdrop the unprecedented rise of digital and communication technologies seen over the past few years. I reiterated that, these technologies, together with the digital economy, have dramatically changed every aspect of life as we know it, and we owe our country every opportunity we can provide for it to thrive within this context by furnishing tomorrow’s generations with the right education and training.

In September of this year, I also had the honour and pleasure of inaugurating the new premises of the Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta. In my speech at the event, I emphasised the role of education in supporting Malta’s vision for video game development and eSports. I also praised the efforts of the University of Malta in continuing to excel in the educational programmes provided at Post Grad MSc and Doctorate levels.

The government’s commitment to supporting educational institutions offering courses in digital technologies is absolute. It is expressed in our consistency in allocating funds for investment and other resources, because it is our wish that our students have the best educational programmes to be able to develop their talents and competences in all fields of digital technologies and associated disciplines. This is what we will be doing with a number of initiatives and projects in 2020.

Young people must necessarily commit to learning new skills throughout their entire working lives as a requisite for rewarding careers. Gone are the days when learning a fixed body of knowledge early in life would suffice for an entire working life. Young people now need to become proficient in ‘learning how to learn’. They must be adaptable, flexible and able to learn very quickly. The ability to communicate effectively, and to adapt one’s way of working with ever-changing teams, are very necessary skills for the future.

 

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