The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

Maximising our human resource

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi Sunday, 1 August 2021, 07:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Having secured the largest ever allocation of European Union funds for Malta since our accession - €2.27bn of European funds for the period 2021-2027 - we are now in a favourable position to invest strongly in our best asset: our human resource.

Such investment will primarily take shape through the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+). Government plans to disburse €193m to promote employment opportunities and have a more resilient labour market in support of social solidarity and cohesion. Investments are also earmarked to meet the challenges triggered by Covid-19 especially in education and healthcare. Gozo will directly benefit from a minimum of 10% of this budget.

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To this end we have laid out government's investment programme under the ESF+ in a document published last week made available for public consultation. The document outlines government's aims to support the most vulnerable groups in society, to improve basic services and to ensure these are universally accessible.

It is a trait of this government to turn challenges into opportunities and it is on this same wavelength that, in the wake of an economic slowdown across the globe, our primary goal is to generate job opportunities and to make the local employment market more resilient.

Attaining this goal will take an investment of €57m from ESF+ to extend assistance to those groups struggling to secure stable employment, address the gender disparity within the local employment sphere, together with an emphasis on adequate job opportunities for youths especially through exposure to work.

In a context particularly characterised by the constantly developing European Green Deal and the European Digital Strategy, making our labour market more resilient could be partially translated into providing the necessary opportunities to the workforce to prepare for a changing industry and to acquire the digital skills necessary for a not so distant "future" of work.

The main motivation behind the €53m earmarked for the second priority, relating to active inclusion, is to facilitate the economic independence of vulnerable persons, especially those at risk of poverty by improving their skill set. In fact the designated target of this allocation includes persons with disability, disadvantaged children and youths, persons seeking employment while lacking the necessary skills, the working poor and parents. It is in the interest of the country that this allocation also spurs initiatives, which enable the social and economic integration of third country nationals in Malta that is possible by empowering public entities and voluntary organisations.

Excellence in healthcare plays a crucial part in the safety net for those groups in the most sensitive socio-economic situations. This investment under ESF+ aims to strengthen the capacity in healthcare services by propagating programmes focused on improving the skills of professionals in the sector, including carers. Not only do we need to make the service entirely accessible to all patients, but it must also centre around the needs and wellbeing of the patient.

Upgrades in the labour market could not be dissociated from quality education and skills, for which government is lining up an investment worth €77m. As a matter of priority we are looking to continue to address the rate of early school leavers. ESF+ funds will enable the use of  tablets in public  secondary schools, an initiative that will also ensure that our children are duly prepared for a more digitally intense future.

A resilient workforce is one that never ceases to learn. With this objective in mind, specific life-learning programmes will be supported and private enterprises will be provided with grants to develop employees' skills.

A remaining €5m will go towards the alleviation of material deprivation among specific groups through procurement of food and basic supplies and their direct distribution.

In line with the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Country Specific Recommendations, this substantial investment to maximise our human resource promises to render the country more competitive, resilient and has the capacity to offer a high standard of living.

We are eagerly expecting your feedback by 30 August on the draft ESF+ programme on email: [email protected]

 

Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi is parliamentary secretary for European Funds at the Office of the Prime Minister

 


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