Interview with Mr Joseph Farrugia, Malta Employers' Association's Director General
Interview with Mr Joseph Farrugia, Malta Employers' Association's Director General
(Q1) Malta and the Med countries, in particular, those from the Maghreb, have committed themselves to an exceptional partnership. How is this commitment reflected at the economic level?
Like the rest of the EU, Malta has an interest in the development of North African countries as the Maghreb region can attract private sector investment, which will help Malta’s and the Med’s economic development. Med countries also have a highly skilled workforce, which Malta can benefit from in terms of skills, talents and labour. The EU and the ERBDare providing aid to those in the most remote areas by setting-up basic infrastructure and making it easier for entrepreneurs to tap into financial aid. At national level, more B2B and trade opportunities are being organised and funded by national and EU funds.
(Q2) How do you see Maltese companies and businessmen and businesswomen contributing to the diversification and modernization of the Mediterranean economy?
Due to this diversification, and its geographic location, Malta can contribute immensely to the modernization of the Mediterranean economy. Being a small state with lack of natural resources, Malta has always had a diversified economy. Up to a few years back, we had a market for textiles and tourism. Whereas tourism is still one of the most productive sectors, Malta has now put more focus on digitalisation – IT, Blockchain, Gaming, Finance, etc. Having a diverse economy helps companies in tapping into new markets and thus remain competitive on a global level.
(Q3) What do you think of the concept of co-location and what role it can play in the economic development and industrial policy of the two parties adopting it?
Co-location extends the concept of the hub concept and allows for greater collaboration between businesses. It can offer various business opportunities to businesses willing to seek partners or to expand operations in other Mediterranean countries.
(Q4) Which sectors do you think are most likely to be the driving force behind a strategic partnership between Malta and the other countries of the Med region?
I would have to say Energy and Education.
Considering the lack of natural resources found in Malta, companies specializing in alternative energy would be interested in partnering with other countries in the Med region to learn new ways and adopt new energy technologies. This concept is also being supported by the EU, setting targets in reducing CO2 emissions and the carbon footprint.
Education (capacity-building, job-shadowing, employment) is another subject that Malta would be interested in. Countries in the South Med region tend to have a higher percentage of youth graduates which Malta can benefit from, considering the aging population, quasi-full employment and skills mismatch the country is currently facing.
(Q5) What is the role of Malta and in particular of the MEA in the development of the service sector in the region?
Malta has been projecting itself as a hub in the Mediterranean for various services – logistics, financial and recently blockchain. The MEA always fulfils its role in guiding its members on all employment related issues and also acts as a networking centre for all types of business since our membership comes from all sectors of the economy.
(Q6) What is the MEA’s contribution to increasing Malta investment in the Mediterranean?
The Malta Employers’ Association’s role is more focused upon employment and industrial relations. However, in the last years the Association has been promoting investment in the Mediterranean through the participation of the EBSOMED project where our members from different sectors are participating in roadshows, networking opportunities and B2B sessions with other Mediterranean companies. Sharing of best practices and networking opportunities are encouraging investors to learn new techniques, are being exposed to new models and being encouraged to do business with other Southern Med countries.
The MEA is also promoting Malta’s investment in the Med by encouraging our members to apply for EU and national funded opportunities through the PRIMA network and internationalisation calls issued throughout the year. We are assisting the Malta Council for Science and Technology, the Managing Authority and coordinator of such calls to disseminate information with our members, and in finding local partners from academic bodies and researchers.
(Q7) How can the MEA help and promote women and young entrepreneurs and startups to better internationalize and build bridges between Europe, the Maghreb, and the Mashreq?
The President of MEA, Ms Doris Sammut Bonnici, apart from being a business woman herself, is also a member of the National Council of Women in Malta. In her role as President, Ms Sammut Bonnici participates in several workshops and delivers talks to students on entrepreneurship and women in business.
As MEA, the Secretariat also attends several events organised by the European Commission, such as the Peer-Learning Workshop on Women Entrepreneurship organised in Prague in May 2019. We promote national events such as the Business Awards for Women, and help in disseminating information with our members on national and EU campaigns/projects such as the Smart Women project implemented by the Malta Communication Authority as part of a KA2 Erasmus project.
Through such activities, we have built a database of organisations working in the field of youth entrepreneurship and women in business, that we can pass through our members to assist in internationalisation projects. Afaemme (Spain), Women Business Angels (Hungary), European Entrepreneurship Education Network (Belgium) Hanze (the Netherlands), the Next Women (Tunisia), Jordan Forum for Business and Professional Women (Jordan) and BPW International (Italy) are just some of the associations we have come in contact with during events attended.
(Q8) What orientations do you want to give to the MEA’s relations with other business confederations in the Med region?
There are numerous areas for collaboration and networking. We can serve as a point of contact for interested investors to visit Malta and we can also relay any valid information about business contacts in the Mediterranean to our members.
(Q9) To what extent and how do you think regional federating bodies such as BUSINESSMED, of which the MEA is a member, can help?
Regional federating bodies such as BUSINESSMED is helping business support organisations like MEA in finding the right partners in the Med region. Through Academies organised by BUSINESSMED, staff of BSOs are being exposed to new learning on collective bargaining, project management and social dialogue. Furthermore, through the organisation of networking events and B2B sessions, our members (companies) are having the opportunity in meeting new potential clients/investors and get to know others countries in which they could operate and/or buy/sell their material and products. Research being implemented (e.g. gender and education, energy technologies, transport, etc.) is also assisting both BSOs and its members in learning more about the global market.
(Q10) What did being a member of BUSINESSMED bring you?
MEA has benefitted from becoming a member of BUSINESSMED as it has increased its networks in the Maghreb and Mashreq area, as well as with other Mediterranean countries. We have signed an MoU with Spazio alla Responsabilita’ (Italy) on Corporate Social Responsibility; applied for a HORIZON2020 project to connect startups in the Med area through Artificial Intelligence with the Consiglio Nazionale della Ricerche (Italy); and started discussion on applying for an Erasmus+ project on Women Entrepreneurship. As MEA, we are also participating in the Thematic Committee on Energy Technologies that will be conducting research in four Med countries.
Our secretariat and our members have participated in several events organised through different projects – B2B sessions, networking opportunities, academies. We hosted a workshop on ‘successfully design and lead a multi-partner project’, in Malta in September 2019, as part of the EBSOMED project.
(Q11) What are your organization’s current and future challenges and perspectives?
As MEA, our mission is to be voice of employers. Hence, we are continuously organising events such as focus groups and workshops, and conducting surveys to keep abreast of the challenges being faced by our members. However, since we represent all sectors, our biggest challenge is to keep up-to-date with the challenges of each sector, vis-a-vis skills mismatch, digitalisation process, research and innovation, etc. To tackle this challenge, we are trying to collaborate with other entities, to avoid the doubling of work and keep up-to-date with the latest challenges in each industry.
Another challenge is reaching micros and small companies, as their participation is very limited. Through the SME Helpdesk and the creation of the MEAindex platform, we have been able to ease the dissemination of information to such groups. However, this should still be considered a challenge.
Additionally, as MEA, we also provide continuous guidance on legal matters to our members – through giving legal advice, representation in court, negotiation of collective agreements, etc. The dissemination of information is done through our website, newsletters, mailshots, social media and other events like info sessions and conferences.
As a social partner, we are heavily involved in social dialogue at national, EU and international level. We issue position papers and proposals for government on how the economy will be influencing business and the labour market. We aim to continue doing this to its optimal level. The biggest challenge in this regard is to attend all sectoral committees. Thus, we try to keep up-to-date by following reports and minutes.