One of the initiatives of the National Skills Council at the Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE) in Malta is the education-business encounters.

Education professionals and representatives from industry are brought together to:

  • identify ways and means of working closer together in addressing the needs of both sectors;
  • promote employability;
  • create a smooth transition from one phase of a student’s life to another.

This is an ongoing activity: since November 2017, seven encounters have taken place. The latest, on June 2018, was about skills requirements and career pathways in the agriculture and fisheries sector.

ReferNet (Malta) has been a key stakeholder in promoting and sponsoring these initiatives.

Within the national employability discussion, a set of core attributes and transferable skills are recognised as indicators of readiness for work. These relate to world of work behavioural practices such as reliability, good timekeeping, confidence and complex problem-solving, and to transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, the capacity to operate independently and to demonstrate contextual sensitivity, including intercultural awareness.

The future will deliver surprises. New skills that students will need include: the interpretation of big data, dealing with automation, the ability to access the right information and further understanding of the customer experience. Employers are already dealing with diversity at the workplace, the idea of boundary-less careers and looking after the well-being of their employees as they aim for work-life balance.

To be able to assist both students and employers in the transition between education and the workplace, the National Skills Council has set up a forum that bridges education and industry, called Connecting business and education. Key stakeholders in different sectors of industry and education are invited to meet during business breakfasts to discuss the main issues that both are facing concurrently, with the aim of creating workable outcomes. Nine business breakfasts have already been held, with different areas of focus: tourism, digital skills needed for industry, employability skills, requirements and pathways in the manufacturing, transport and aviation sectors. Outcomes so far have included partnership agreements between industry and education, support by industry to schools such as teacher training and placements on VET subjects in the workplace, and new collaborations in apprenticeships.

The intention is not to share the same language but to bring together these languages to create common understanding to assist both parties. This is done by holding an honest discussion of what is expected from each party, focusing on developing long term partnerships, providing support to each partner when doing so, and examining benefits to each party that will result from collaborations.

Outcomes of these business breakfasts are then worked on and brought to fruition. One such outcome is a recent partnership agreement between MEDE and hotel establishments in Malta, whereby the latter have expressed their readiness to support State and non-State secondary schools training in hospitality and tourism (MQF/EQF levels 2&3). One hotel sponsors one secondary school and all students aged 14 to 16 studying the subject are invited to carry out the practical tasks of the hospitality learning programme at the hotel premises; this experience is part of their assessment.  The rationale underpinning this initiative is that learners who are given the prospect of participating in work-based learning gain access to multiple communities of practice and so can engage in rich opportunities for learning.

Other similar partnership agreements are in the pipeline in other vocational areas, such as engineering technology, health and social care, agribusiness, information technology and retail.