PKF survey – encouraging more women to work

Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta Today, 7 January 2016

wooExamining the years from 2005 to 2014, one finds that the overall female activity rate has increased from year to year.PKF funded a scientific survey among women of different age groups to test the activity rate in the workforce and why Malta is trailing behind the EU28 average. Sadly, the survey found a number of factors contributing to a low level of female participation that need to be addressed in order to improve productivity and aim for a higher GDP level.

Examining the years from 2005 to 2014, one finds that the overall female activity rate has increased from year to year. Starting from 36.4% in 2005, the rate has risen to 52.1% in 2014. However, although there was a gradual improvement we find that the rate in 2014 was still well behind the EU 2014 average of 66.5%. Apart from quoting the overall activity rate, the National Statistics Office gives the rate for three different age groups, which are 15-24, 25-54, and 55-64. For the group pertaining to the 15-24 age cohort, the rate fluctuates between 47.7% and 51.7% over the years in question.

The younger age group registers the least activity gender gap, that is, the least difference in the employment rate between males and females. Furthermore, the 2014 female activity rate for this younger age group reached 51.7%, which very surprisingly exceeds the EU 2014 average by 12.8 percentage points. This excess is only visible in this age group of 15-24 and allegedly reflects a worrying trend, revealing how more women are at work possibly due to a high ‘early school’ leaving rate (they ought to be continuing education). From a review of literature and the discussions made with key stakeholders, PKF concluded that the variables which most influence the female activity rate pertains to education, birth and marriage rates, cost of living and the recent introduction of free childcare centres.

The education variable was divided into other variables, each according to the age group being analysed. Furthermore, in an effort to undertake regression analysis based on data so collected, PKF assumed both the crude birth and marriage rates. All this data was obtained from the NSO and Eurostat databases for the 10 years 2005 to 2014.

The crude marriage rate for 2014 was not found, so the mean imputation was used. For the casual reader, one notes a major limitation of  regression models in the public domain, added to the fact that due to time constraints and other logistical limitations PKF faced a  limited range of data entries collected through its own surveys, and so the exact effect of the explanatory variables on the female activity rates may not be accurately depicted.

Additionally, the predictor variables considered are those whose data is publicly available and which are believed to have a direct effect on the female activity rate.  Apart from these variables, however, there may be others which are more influential but these are either unknown or cannot be quantified or represented by a statistical variable. For example, factors which might influence women’s decision to join the workforce are ingrained social habits, attitudes and traditions, where females abide by the unwritten rule that they are the gender who take care of  families and in the process ought not to commit themselves to careers that distract them from fulfilling this aim.

So in this social habitat, women may not wish to participate in ambitious careers even when the most appealing employment incentives are on offer. A consolation is that over the years a number of effective employment incentives were introduced which proved successful since more women than men graduate each year at university in a number of faculties. This begs the question about under-utilisation of intellectual capital due to the low female activity rate and naturally it reflects wasted millions spent on education. But not everything is doom and gloom since recent incentives, such as free child care centres (apart from many other fiscal incentives introduced earlier) have had a positive effect on the number of women in employment.

Continuing on the 15-24 age group, the education substrata are influenced by the Early School Leavers and the Youth Educational Attainment variables. Sadly, the incidence of high Early School Leavers (ESL) rates in Malta deserves further study. ESL can be defined as persons between 18 and 24 years of age who do not have at least the equivalent of SEC passes (grades 1 to 7) in five different subjects and who are not in education or training.

In line with the EU, this needs to be brought down to 10% by 2020, yet in contrast Malta’s ESL in 2013, stood at 20.9%.An interesting experiment called Vet was recently introduced to combat this phenomenon as a pilot project in a number of schools. This aims to reduce the number of ESL in Malta by teaching youngsters (from the age of 14 up to adulthood) the soft skills needed in the work place.

Vocational education training (Vet) is considered useful in any economy since the programmes underpin the skills of entrants in the labour market which, due to globalization, is rapidly changing. Vet can thus be instrumental in improving both the social and economic aspects of the young unskilled generation entering the workforce.Vocational training has seen continuous support from the education ministry and in a relatively short timeframe has provided a useful link towards meeting labour market exigencies. It does this in many ways but principally by development of essential personal skills in accordance with the needs of specific sectors.

It is encouraging to know that 10 secondary schools have already taken this initiative, seven of them being government schools and another three private schools.A Directorate for Lifelong Learning and Early School Leavers (DLLE) aims to encourage a higher worker participation to achieve a more equitable state of affairs and is responsible for selecting, recruiting and the placement of adult educators within different sectors. helps young people to improve their current standard of education and gain further knowledge, values and skills essential to enter the labour market or gain basic qualifications to continue further education and equally productive are a number of private providers of academic courses.

However, one may question the effectiveness of these programmes given that as stated earlier the female participation rate in the 15-24 years cohort continues to exceed the EU average (albeit with some improvement).To help answer this paradox, PKF decided to sponsor another study to measure the statistical correlation (if any) existing between Vocational Education and Training policies and their ability to lower the cohort of Early School Leavers.

This study aims to measure the effectiveness of the Vet initiative undertaken by various schools, institutes and colleges and evaluate the extent to which young students learn vocational skills after pursuing these programmes.

In conclusion, there is a lot that needs to be done to ameliorate the problems of low female participation, including those faced by working mothers – a brilliant yet difficult solution is to extend the school opening hours. One can say that progress has been registered in some areas yet ideally, a study should be jointly sponsored by the ministry of education, ETC and ministry of family welfare to report whether the targets set by 2016 budgetary measures on female work activity can be achieved.

Readers may wish to obtain a full copy of the scientific study by writing to Anne Marie Mazzacano D’Amato  at

A prosperous New Year to all readers.

Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta Today, 7 January 2016
Get in touch: | +356 21 493 041