Five years down the line for the eSkills Malta Foundation

Publication Date: Nov 22, 2019
 
Malta has always been at the forefront when it comes to the technology sector. But this is not by chance and there are various reasons for this. A very good education system and first-class training have developed some well-drilled and talented resources on the island. Combined with reasonable investment by digital entrepreneurs and right and forward-looking government policies implemented by the government, has created an ideal digital economy that attracts more local investment and some excellent leading technology firms to operate from Malta. The country’s stability, the attractive business incentives, and the “can do” attitude adopted by the government has not only helped but has served as a springboard to our flourishing digital economy. Indeed, amongst all members of the European Union, Malta ranks 10th overall in the European Digital and Economy Index (DESI), and 9th in the Human Capital of the same Index.  DESI is compiled annually by the European Commission to serve as a barometer of countries in the Digital sector.

Of course, when it comes to human resources, this has created a considerable challenge for Malta. The Digital Industry requires ICT human resources not just in quantity but also in quality and equipped with the right industry skills. This has kept any organisation involved with the supply side of the equation very busy.  Coupled with this, requirements of digital skills has gone sky-high due to the proliferation of technology in our everyday life.  The eSkills Malta Foundation was formed in 2014 to take on such challenges.

The eSkills Malta Foundation is made up of various representatives from Government, industry and education, who can contribute to the increase in digital skills and the development of the IT profession and help us with the following mandates: 

to advise Government and relevant stakeholders on matters related to eSkills policies;
to contribute to the expansion of ICT educational programmes and related formative initiatives;
to lead an ICT professionalism development programme; 
to instigate further reform in the ICT educational offerings and contribute to capacity-building of the ICT education community; and finally, to
to champion campaigns and promote the Maltese eSkills potential locally and internationally.

International best practises indicate that multi-sectoral partnerships are one of the key approaches in achieving synergy in the sustainable development of the right digital skills. The eSkills Malta Foundation was established by the Maltese Government to reflect this paradigm of inclusive synergy. The Founding members of the Foundation are the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Malta Information Technology Agency, the Malta Communications Authority, the Malta Enterprise, The Malta Gaming Authority and The Malta Chamber of Commerce Enterprise and Industry with the Office of the Prime Minister as a subsequent founder.

Strategic goals

Strategic goals

The eSkills Malta Foundation has been following several strategic goals that were established following its launch.  These are valid goals that are occasionally tweaked depending on European and local developments in the digital sector. The Foundation is guided by the following strategic goals:
1. Provide a coherent and visible policy framework that will guide key multi-stakeholder actions.  The initiatives of the foundation are guided by an annual plan with actions and the stakeholders involved.
2. Improving the image and popularising ICT careers is an important aspect if we are to increase the number of students taking up ICT, and the number of professionals in the sector.  The Foundation develops engagement activities and takes part in multi-stakeholder events to address the perception of ICT careers with a view that ICT career studies are based on informed views and with a rationale in mind that Malta’s national well-being depends on the increase of the number of ICT practitioners.  The activities also need to reflect on the gender imbalance that is prevalent in the ICT industry.
3. Energising the Education Ecosystem is one of the most important goals.  The ICT Education System in Malta needs regular support to provide the skills needed by the ICT industry, boost the short term skill supply which constrains growth, inform on the future skills trajectories, provide guidelines on continuous professional development, and promoting the best HR practices in the ICT industry and digitally-enabled companies.
4. Engaging with European and global digital skills organisations to share best practices that can be implemented locally, keeping an eye on the available European standards and frameworks which relate to digital skills and competences, and encouraging the development of the ICT profession as suggested by our local and European stakeholders.

The National Coalition

The eSkills Malta Foundation is authorised and appointed National Coalition for Malta.  The Coalition builds on the work of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs.  Since 2013, the Grand Coalition, through the eSkills4Jobs campaign, has led to the training of more than two million people in digital skills.  The aim is to have a national coalition in all Member States by 2020. As the National Coalition for Malta, the Foundation has pledged to the European Commission to train 60 guidance and career teachers every year.   The National Coalition is also committed to implementing the European strategy and blueprint for Digital Skills in Malta, hence being an active member of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition set up in 2016.

Achievements for the Foundation

Launch of Malta’s ICT skills audit
Launch of Malta's ICT Skills Audit

The eSkills Malta Foundation is entrusted with several mandates by the Government in relation to digital skills. Indeed, the objectives are very much in line with EU recommendations about the target areas that each EU country should focus on to improve the expansion of digital skills in their own country.  One of the important pillars of these objectives is to lead an ICT Professionalism programme.

The Foundation recognises this important requirement, which is felt not only locally, but also amongst all European Countries.  Furthermore, the knowledge and skills attained by students and employees must match the skills required by the industry.  In this respect, the eSkills Malta Foundation launched the ICT Skills Audit on 26th April 2017, which encompasses the skills required by the ICT industry and the provision of education. The audit was a collaboration between the Foundation and FastTrack into Information Technology (FIT) from Ireland. The project is carried out regularly and is, in fact, being carried out as we speak.

CEN/Technical Committee 428 and ITPE
Establishing standards to guide in the maturity of the IT profession will provide enormous benefits to the IT professional and practitioner community-engaged across various business and government sectors. Additionally, standards must take into consideration wider implications related to the European Union single market strategy and policy, industry requirements, innovation trends and last but not least social needs.

CEN is the recognised European Standards committee, and the CEN/TC 428 is the technical committee with the responsibility for the standardisation of a common language of professional digital and IT competences, skills and knowledge applied in all domains.  Since early 2017, the eSkills Malta Foundation was authorised by MCCAA, the national standards body, to represent the country in this important ICT standards committee.  The Foundation also had the pleasure to host this committee in Malta on October 2019.

This is part of the European IT Professionalism Framework.  This includes four pillars, namely the e-Competence Framework (a standard since 2016), the IT professional Ethics, the European Body of Knowledge, and Continuous Professional Development.  Malta aspires to this framework and the Foundation promotes it with the industry, through local conferences and workshops.

Launch of Guidelines to Increase and retain women in ICT
Launch of Guidelines to Increase and retain women in ICT
One of the most important objectives of the eSkills Malta Foundation is to encourage girls and women to consider joining the digital sector as a career and encourage employers to provide the right environment platform to implement gender balance in their employment policy and furthermore implement initiatives to increase and retain women in the ICT sector.

The Guidelines to increase and retain Women in ICT was a highly interesting project which involved the study of current European best-practices, engagement and consultation.  The study was launched on the 11th of April 2018 and is targeted to Digital employers to help them in reducing the gender gap.  The eSkills Malta Foundation has plans to take this project further in the very near future.

Launch of the National eSkills Strategy 2019 - 2021

Launch of the National eSkills Strategy 2019 - 2021
These are times that Digital Technology is prevalent across all sectors, and this has created a need for digital skills for most roles and positions of employment. Digital skills are not just relevant for ICT practitioners, but also for the workforce, education providers, and society. The National eSkills agenda seeks to develop a larger digital talent pool and to ensure that individuals and the labour force are equipped with adequate digital skills. Since 2017, member states of the EU have been invited to develop comprehensive national digital skills strategies, and in this respect, through the eSkills Malta Foundation, Malta is one of the first few countries to specifically step up to this challenge.

On the 13th March 2019, the Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, Hon. Silvio Schembri launched the National eSkills Strategy 2019-2021, making Malta the first EU member state to have a national strategy for digital skills. This strategy is currently being implemented.

Digital Literacy and ICT in education

Digital Literacy and ICT in education

Through various initiatives with relevant stakeholders in the local education, the Foundation contributes to the expansion of ICT education at a formative, secondary and tertiary level.  In collaboration with the Ministry for Education and Employment, through the Psycho-Social services section, the foundation organises ICT teachers visits, careers sessions to Career Guidance Teachers and Career Advisors, ICT Exposure Experience to give students a taste of the ICT Industry through a week-long placement.  The Foundation also collaborates with the Directorate for Digital Literacy and Transversal Skills for the implementation of other initiatives including the further implementation of the EU Self-reflection tool (SELFIE) and others.

EU Code Week


EU Code Week

This year for the third consecutive year Malta has placed first with the most coding events held per capita.  The number of events being held in Malta is constantly on the increase with 147 events in 2017, 190 events in 2018 and with the outstanding number of 500 + events in 2019. The impressive teamwork carried out by Malta’s Code Week Ambassador, Edu Coordinator and lead teachers was fundamental for this success.  EU Code Week 2019 was this year again a record-breaking year for the initiative with over 66,000 activities organized, approximately 22000 more than in the 2018 edition.
In Malta, EU Code Week is organised and championed by the eSkills Malta Foundation, where in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, large to small, various code-related activities are organised with the intention of increasing digital skills and knowledge through coding in a fun way.

Conclusion

Since its inception, the Foundation has stepped up it's networking with the EU, and it’s international counterparts and has been very visible and contributory towards the various subject areas, some of which are mentioned above.  The Foundation will definitely continue with its journey in helping and supporting all the pillars of Digital education, ICT professionals and practitioners, workforce and society, in acquiring the right skills, competences and attitudes.  This was always a big challenge for the eSkills Malta Foundation and Malta in general, and with the emerging technologies of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Data Science and Analytics, Distributed Ledger Technology (Blockchain) and many others, the future ahead is even more challenging.  The Foundation operates in collaboration with many other local and European partners to achieve its aims and eventually a successful outcome.

Article by Bernadette Zerafa – Manager eSkills Malta Foundation