The European Union has provided its citizens with many opportunities. The four freedoms are often cited but freedom of movement is in my opinion the greatest of the advantages. Why do so few Maltese take advantage of it?
Eurostat published a Labour Force survey in March of this year. There’s plenty of data to pore over if you’re a numbers geek, but the most interesting stats feature in one of its press releases.
Eurostat showed how less than 1% of young people (i.e., aged 20-34) changed country for their current job. This in itself is not surprising. It’s perfectly normal to stay in your own country for a job, especially when the country is as large as, say, France or Portugal.
There’s a scary graph on the second page of the press release. It shows the number of people ready to change country for a job. Malta comes out top – more than 70% of people would not move for a job. The number of people who would not move is lower in every other country.
Our youth have one of the greatest opportunities in history.
Why would they squander it?
The Maltese reality
Let’s put that number into perspective.
In Malta, we’re not used to the idea of moving just because of a job. Malta is small enough to be able to commute to any part of the island. No one says, “I’ve just got a job in Valletta so I’m going to move to Valletta.” People would think you’re strange if you say that.
Rush hour traffic shows us maybe we should start thinking on these lines. Few will because our mindset is so different.
I remember being surprised at this sort of thing when I lived in Brussels. Colleagues of mine changed their apartment to avoid a 30-minute commute. It didn’t seem worth it. It also made practical sense.
In Malta, however, ‘getting a job’ rarely exists in someone’s mind together with ‘let’s move.’
The opportunities abroad are incredible and fascinating. For this reason, you can work abroad in organisations and industries that do not – and cannot – exist in Malta.
In Malta we’re not used to moving because of a job
Could it be that the Maltese aren’t good enough?
The Maltese opportunities
Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
We have an education system which has us knowing English fluently by the time we leave school. We also would have a good basis in another (usually Italian) and a smattering of a fourth.
With these languages we can work in many other countries. If you work with a large expat employer – think Airbus, Siemens, the EU – all you need is English. You can live and work anywhere in the EU even if you don’t know the local language.
The opportunities are endless.
Furthermore, if you choose to work with the EU’s civil service, you need to speak three languages to be eligible for promotion. People from some countries have to scramble to learn a third language just to become eligible. We Maltese are eligible as soon as we walk through the door.
We’re that good.
We also have a highly technical education system. I don’t just mean we have good technological skills either. People trained in medicine, law, finance, engineering and IT are just as good as any in Europe. If you’re semi-decent in these industries there are many companies in many countries waiting to snap you up. If you’re a little more specialised than that, you’ve got better chances.
Once again, the opportunities are endless.
I know it sounds like I’m boasting, but we really are that good.
Okay, we have the skills and the opportunity is there.
There must be something holding people back, right?
The Maltese fear
I suspect I know what this is.
I remember being 22 and preparing for my move to the United Kingdom for a great job opportunity. The idea was to spend some time there and move back. At no point did I think I was going to stay away forever.
I remember having a meal in St Julians with some close friends. These were people who had just joined me in the ordeal of University finals and thesis presentations. They were happy for me but one comment surprised me.
We have the skills so what’s holding our youth back
“You’re so brave,” they said, “for going abroad.”
I had no idea how to react to this. Paying Air Malta lots of money on return tickets didn’t strike me as a brave thing to do.
I joked about it; I said I was only going to England not the Wild West.
Their comment is telling, in my opinion.
We never think of ‘moving’ in Malta, let alone abroad. For my friends, changing country was something they’d never contemplated. It was fraught with the unknown and the mysterious. It wasn’t about the opportunities, they couldn’t imagine doing it. I suspect this led them to think I was brave.
I may be wrong but the fear of something – moving – which is so alien to our culture could be a huge part of it.
I think it’s a little sad that youngsters – the ones who are supposed to experiment, to want to fly the coop – resist this opportunity.
Could it be mentality or is there something deeper?
The Maltese experience
As someone who lived in four countries (including Malta), I can tell you lots of positive things about being an expat. I can talk about personal growth. I can describe ordeals that pushed me to be a better person. I can describe the delights of inter-cultural mingling.
If you haven’t already considered living abroad then all this won’t make a difference.
I want to understand why people won’t move. This is not something captured in Eurostat’s data. I have therefore teamed up with the brains behind the ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ website to put together a survey.
The people behind the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ site are impartial, which is to say, they’re interested in topics without the partisan lens that so often colours our discussions in Malta. One of their aims is to promote structured and informed debate. I think informed debate can only take place if the right questions are asked, and answered. This is why we’re collaborating on a survey to get to the bottom of this matter.
Then I’d like to ask you for a favour. Forward this article to a youngster you know. Ask them to answer it.
Once the results are out, maybe we can understand this a little better.
Because when opportunity knocks, why would people ignore it?
- Labour Force survey; Eurostat
- Half of unemployed young people in the EU ready to relocate for a job; Eurostat; 2018-03-27
All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.
Written by: Antoine P Borg
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