Shortages in human resources and talent have been widespread across different industries over the past few years, with many businesses failing to fill in various vacancies amid the increasingly tight labour market.
This situation has prompted many business leaders to either rush their recruitment processes or give more responsibilities to current employees, two very different paths which can have their own damaging results, such as high employee turnover, drop in team morale, and surges in stress levels.
One way of addressing this issue is to consider offering apprenticeships, both for entry-level roles, and also managerial ones.
Apprenticeships provide businesses with skilled workers for the future, ensuring employees have the right skills at hand to thrive in the long term. The provision of tailored on-the-job training enables them to develop their careers across the business, with the company recruiting, training, and retaining future talent in the process.
Locally, employers have repeatedly expressed concerns about a shortage of skilled workers in the labour market, forcing many to continually look overseas for talent. There have been calls for a culture of work-based learning to be strengthened on the island, yet these are often met with mixed reactions, with many questioning the value brought to employers and whether students would benefit further from a more traditional, academic approach to learning. On the other hand, a number of initiatives have been established to encourage these schemes, including the Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship Act of 2018, which aims to regulate education providers and sponsors that provide vocational education and training programmes. However, students still have insufficient opportunities to hone their skills and get ready to enter working life.
Martin Borg, Founder and CEO of education and training solutions company Edu Alliance, recently took to social media to shed light on the need for more companies to offer opportunities for apprenticeships and work-based learning to students. He highlighted that these provide a “unique bridge between learning in the classroom and real-world application”, allowing the individuals to gain experience while also earning a wage.
His sentiments were echoed by MCAST Principal and CEO Joachim James Calleja at the start of the scholastic year earlier this month, who called for businesses to take on more students on apprenticeship schemes, as these serve as an “investment for employers as much as it benefits learners”.
Following this, MaltaCEOs.mt reached out to Mr Borg to learn more about the importance of apprenticeships, together with why private companies need to take them up more.
He remarked that apprenticeships are “crucial” for six primary reasons, particularly that of skill development.
“Apprenticeships provide a structured approach to developing essential skills and competencies specific to an industry or job role. This ensures that apprentices are trained to meet the specific needs of the company, increasing their productivity and contribution to the organisation,” Mr Borg explained.
Additionally, apprenticeships also provide companies with the opportunity to address skills shortages and gaps, issues many industries are “grappling with”. Through apprenticeships, companies can play an “active role” in addressing these gaps by training individuals in the “exact skills they require”.
He also pointed towards apprenticeships acting as a “talent pipeline” for businesses, enabling them to “nurture and mould” future employees from the early stages of their careers, potentially resulting in a “more loyal and motivated workforce”.
Such opportunities also allow companies to promote diversity and inclusion within their teams by offering opportunities to individuals with diverse backgrounds. This can provide companies with “different perspectives and ideas”.
Tied to the previous point, apprenticeships can also give companies a positive reputation in the community and industry, which can help attract both customers and talent.
Lastly, a key advantage is that of cost efficiency, as apprenticeships are a cost-effective way to acquire and develop talent.
“While apprentices may require initial training and supervision, they are often paid less than fully qualified employees. Over time, this investment can result in highly skilled, loyal workers who are more likely to stay with the company,” Mr Borg stated.
Certain industries, such as those of social work and finance, tend already be quite open to apprenticeship programmes. However, Mr Borg noted that there are still several others who can “benefit significantly” from introducing apprenticeships and work-based learning.
These include IT, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, renewable energy, as well as creative and design industries.
Focusing on IT in particular, Mr Borg said that the industry is “constantly evolving”, and there is a high demand for skilled professionals. The introduction of apprenticeships can help “bridge the skills gap and ensure a steady supply of qualified IT workers”. The same can be said about the renewable energy and the creative and design industries.
The shift towards making apprenticeships more commonplace across industries has happened rapidly in the EU, particularly since private providers have been encourages to contribute to the opportunities available to learners. Mr Borg urged for something similar to take place in Malta, linking to a database by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) which contains the different ways various countries have made this transition.
Asked whether any of the suggestions proposed by CEDEFOP would work locally, he said that in order to determine this, Malta’s “specific needs and circumstances” must be considered. “Factors to consider include the current skill gaps, industry demand, and the education system,” Mr Borg added.
He proposed the development of a national apprenticeship framework, which would allow private education and training providers accredited by the Malta Further & Higher Education Authority (MFHEA) to “ensure consistency and quality across various industries”.
Mr Borg also suggested providing further financial incentives or tax breaks to companies that participate in apprenticeship programmes, as this can “encourage private companies to take them up”.
Businesses can also benefit from further collaboration with educational institutions, as “strong partnerships” between them can “facilitate the design and implementation of apprenticeship programmes that align with industry needs”.
He also proposed regular monitoring and evaluation of such programmes in order to identify areas for improvement and ensure their effectiveness.
However, when it comes to apprenticeships, businesses are faced with the ultimate task of working with inexperienced individuals who might not necessarily have the right skills for the job from the very start. Therefore, it is vital that business leaders find ways to ensure that all parties, from the apprentice, all the way to the company and themselves as leaders, benefit from the apprenticeship.
Mr Borg acknowledged that this can be done by setting clear expectations for both the apprentice and the company, defining the learning objectives, work tasks, and responsibilities from the onset.
He added that experienced mentors should be assigned to provide “guidance and support” through training programmes. They should be “patient, willing to teach, and invested in the apprentice’s success”.
Training plans must be structured accordingly, outlining the skills and competencies the apprentice will acquire during the programme. Mr Borg noted that these plans have to be regularly reviewed and adjusted as needed.
Business leaders must also provide apprentices with regular feedback and evaluation, together with recognition and certification, as these will benefit the individual’s career progression.
Apprenticeship programmes need to also be continuously assessed in order to determine their effectiveness, allowing business leaders to “make improvements as necessary to optimise the learning experience for apprentices and the value for the company”, Mr Borg said.
Lastly, even though apprentices tend to be inexperienced, they must still be awarded fair compensation for their work. In recent months, there have been several calls for unpaid internships to be banned altogether, and European Parliament is seemingly moving towards this view, voting to ban them across the EU.
Mr Borg remarked that business leaders must ensure that apprentices receive “fair compensation” for the work, which may include “a progressive increase in wages as they gain experience and skills”.
Mr Borg has occupied various educational leadership positions over the years. In 2021 he shifted his focus to wanting to help individuals and business build strong, innovative education and training systems, and thus founded Edu Alliance. The company aims to “create the necessary synergies and solutions for quality learning to happen”.
Edu Alliance Founder and CEO Martin Borg / LinkedIn
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