Official statistics on the gainfully occupied, sourced from the administrative records of the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC), have been analysed and published by the National Statistics Office (NSO) for many years.
This long-standing depository of data allows for both a longitudinal and cross-sectional analysis of the changes and continuities in the domestic labour market. Accordingly, a general and brief comparison of the employment data for the past two decades provides interesting information on the way in which the structure of our economy has changed and captures how people at work adapted to this change.
Indeed, such a longitudinal analysis indicates that while some economic activities were on the rise in terms of employment, others were on the decline. Over the past two decades, education, health, business activities, wholesale and retail trade and financial intermediation were among the economic activities that have seen an increase in their gainfully-occupied population. On the other hand, other economic activities registering a drop include the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing industries, and ship-repair and shipbuilding. These trends evidence the fact that more persons are shifting towards the services sector, whilst those employed in manufacturing industries are decreasing.
The numbers also indicate that Malta is steadily developing into a knowledge-based economy, where value-added is higher, with information and communication technology (ICT) playing a pivotal role. This is also seen from the fact that the number of persons gainfully-occupied in sectors such as education, computer and related activities and other economic activities are on the rise. Although the shift in employment from manufacturing to service based activities is significant, specific manufacturing activities remain attractive and competitive for Malta.
Although social and economic change is to be expected with the passage of time, some factors remain relatively constant. Accordingly, the number of gainfully-occupied persons within the public sector dropped, but remained significant within the Maltese economy, especially in Gozo. At this point, it is useful to distinguish between public administration and the broader public sector. The drop in public sector employment was more notable in the wider public sector involving direct production, financial intermediation, and transport and communications, rather than in the civil service. Most economic activities affected by the decline in public sector employment were those sectors that were either unsustainable or were affected by privatisation. In other sectors, the government, through the competent agency or authority, assumed the role of regulator and stepped back from its function as operator.
On balance, the total number of gainfully-occupied persons continued to increase over the past decades, as corroborated by official statistics. Analysing trends in employment figures by industry may indicate where future jobs will be required. Beyond the published figures, it is evident that the working population has managed to adapt itself to continue to earn a living according to the changing circumstances. Indeed, adapting to this change was, and remains, the name of the game.
Victor Aquilina is a senior statistician at the National Statistics Office.