The Catering Sector in the Maltese Islands marks a very important component on the destination’s visitor experience, apart from the fact that it also services the needs of an increasingly affluent local population which dines out very frequently on a year-round basis.
Success in the Hospitality sector depends very much on a dedicated and skilled workforce that is required to fulfill customers’ expectations.
Recent statistics show that the number of European Union citizens and third-country nationals who took up employment in the sector increased substantially, whereas the share contributed by the Maltese population has declined by nearly 30%. This exponential growth in the share of foreigners is taking place across the entire tourism sector. It is noteworthy to point out that the industry would have probably collapsed had it not been for the employment of expatriates, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to find Maltese citizens willing to taking up employment in the sector, even if on a part-time basis.
Due to a relatively young aged workforce, comparatively better working conditions in other sectors and foreign employees who are more mobile than nationals, the labour turnover of the sector is twice as high as the economy average rate. Changes in legislation in recent years has improved the part-time employees’ pro-rata benefits to meet those of full-time employees, which in turn helped to incentivize more part-time work. In fact, the share of part-time employment as a percentage of the total workforce is the highest across the whole economy, almost at par of that of fulltime. This is not conducive to those considering of seeking a career in the sector.
Recently conducted research indicates that those working in the hospitality sector consider their employment as providing promising career opportunities; however, this is not how it is seen from the perspective of someone standing outside of the industry. In fact, such people perceive employment in the sector rather negatively. In the meantime, the hospitality sector is facing not only industry related challenges, but it has to compete with other growing sectors of the economy. The Employability Index published recently by the Ministry for Education and Employment shows that some of the students trained in the hospitality sector opt for alternative employment outside the industry after their first year of employment, and this is indeed quite worrying.
Although of no comfort to local employers in the sector, various studies conducted in Europe show similar trends reflecting typical work arrangements and negative perceptions, which appear to be common characteristics of this sector across all Europe. This in spite of the fact that a career in the hospitality sector has proven to be most fulfilling and enjoyable for many employees working in it.
The hospitality sector is experiencing a skills gap and a lack of qualified and skilled labour.
It is highly probable that the sector’s reliance on foreign workers, especially third country nationals, will be on the increase in the years to come. The only way of slowing down this trend is to improve the general work conditions related to what the market is offering. The hospitality sector needs to work hard to find ways of attracting a skillful and dedicated labour force. It must provide consistent training while ensuring that employees are kept motivated and committed. We need to improve standards and implement best practices. We need to work hard to shift towards employing more full-time and reduce part-time employment. We also need to find ways to entice more Maltese workers and increase awareness of local traditions as this is quite an important factor that tourists look for. All in all, we must offer better conditions. However, the Government needs to update employment legislation in order to fine tune it with current business realities, allowing a degree of flexibility whilst ensuring that employees in the sector are not shortchanged in any way or form!
George Micallef, Board of Governer & MHRA RGP