Tuesday 17 September 2019

Let’s act before it’s too late!

National Stem Engagement Conference addresses STEM industry shortage skills

The European Centre for the Developement of Vocational Training (Cedefop) has estimated that by 2025 approximately 26% of all the jobs will be high in level occupations in STEM-related fields (specifically in Science, Engineering, Healthcare, Business and Teaching). In the meanwhile, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Entrerprise and Industry and the Malta Business Bureau have expressed concern at the fact that finding people with the right skills is already proving quite diffiicult in some sections specifically in those related to STEM.

As a result of this concern related to shortage of skills associated with the STEM industry, The Malta Council for Science and Technology, the Malta College of Arts Science and Technology and the University of Malta have embarked on a tripartite national approach to create awareness on the missed opportunities if people do not embark on STEM-related careers, the effect of this missed opportunity on Malta’s ever growing economic sector and the necessary actions required to tackle the ever-increasing problem of skills gap in STEM.

The health services, aviation engineering, civil engineering, manufacturing, ICT and financial services sectors have been acknolwedged as the main drivers for employment growth in Malta. Continued growth within these sectors would require a parallel growth in a highly-skilled pool of employees. Also, as quoted by Cedefop in 2015, Malta’s aspirations of becoming a hub for different kinds of innovative services will continue increasing opportunities for medium and high-skilled carreers. Whilst Malta has been focusing on trying to bridge the skills gap by increasing its skills supply in order to tackle expected skills needs, bottlenecks are to be found in some sectors, such as specialist medical practioners and nurses in the health services sector, trained technicians in the fields of electronics, aviation and civil engineering and software developers in the ICT sector and Numerate Scientists sector.

The blame for the shortage of STEM graduates is often laid at the door of students, however it might well be that society at large, including parents and career guidance practioners could be held accountable for this shortfall. Hence a national debate to stir discussion was much needed. A national conference to address the critical situation took place on Friday 3rd May, at Esplora Interactive Science Centre, Kalkara.

During the conference a collective STEM Engagement Position Paper was presented by MCST, UM and MCAST. The paper presents the current situation, and highlights that whilst some initiatives to tackle STEM skills have already been put in place in some sectors, unless further action is taken it might be too late for sustained economic growth. The position paper presented a recommendation for a STEM Working Group to push forward the cohesive ideas presented in the tripartite proposal as well as the development of a consolidated Malta Science Communication Strategy.
In his keynote speech Dr. Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Executive Chairman, Malta Council for Science & Technology said that “We will be striving to address the STEM skills gap in Malta, an issue we consider to be of national importance. Esplora endeavours to encourage our visitors to ‘explore, think, imagine, appreciate and create’. It is the tool which we will be using to facilitate our efforts to encourage our younger generations to seriously consider the possibility of embarking on STEM-related careers.”

Prof. Alfred J Vella, Rector, University of Malta added that “The University cannot promote science, engineering and technology education and perform serious research locally without the involvement of enough students and young researchers. The search for these human treasures begins at the primary school. That’s why we’re here to engage with our partners in education in order to send a common message that the world of science and technology is marvellous and also critical for our national development and continued wellbeing.”

While Prof. Joachim James Calleja, Principal & CEO, Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology said “MCAST will be a key player in supporting STEM engagement by providing students and employees with the necessary skills, competencies and knowledge in support of Malta’s dynamic and prosperous economy. MCAST’s work-based learning programme will provide industry based training and the necessary support to learners in an effort to address the current skills gap and future-proof our workforce.”

The debate panel discussions addressed 4 key areas namely: STEM-related Policy and Strategy; STEM Employability, Mismatches and the Skills Gap; Public Science Capital and the Gender gap in STEM and STEM Education and Communication.

The first two areas were tackled by panel members Hon. Silvio Schembri MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy & Innovation; Hon. Karl Gouder MP, Shadow Minister for Employment & Industrial Relations; Ms. Nicola Cini, Department Manager, Employment Services, Jobsplus and Mr. Andre Fenech, Head, Policy Development, The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. This panel addressed the relevance of STEM from an economic perspective and the value in the development of a national STEM engagement strategy;the role of the government in supporting STEM and local and EC trends with regards to the skills gap.

The third and fourth key areas were discussed by Hon. Miriam Dalli MEP; Hon. Roberta Metsola MEP; Ms. Joanne Grima,CEO, Institute for Education and Mr. Gaetano Bugeja, Director, Learning and Assessment Programmes, Ministry for Education & Employment. This group tackled questions such as the political commitments at EU level towards STEM education and communication and how this could be reflected on Malta. The set-up of competitive, accessible funds to communicate STEM subjects and the measures being taken so that more students will take up STEM subjects, at subject choice stages in order for these to translate into more students taking STEM careers were also discussed.

The main three pillars featured in the conference where employability, personal growth and active citizenship. The conference was attended by stakeholders from industry, educators and the general public.

The debate was transmitted live on social media and can be accesssed via the below link:
First part:

Second part:

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