A critical review of graduate employability skills : lessons from the Maltese experience

  • Anne Marie Thake

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This study examines how institutional actors interpret, influence and respond to skills availability in the labour market for graduates. It researches and draws lessons from the Maltese experience of managing graduate employability over three decades, focusing on the three fastest-growing economic sectors, namely, Accountancy, Pharmachem and ICT, each of which is the subject of a case study. The study investigates the interaction of governments, firms, higher education institutions and professional associations in identifying skills shortages and gaps, as well as in devising policy frameworks and skills regimes at national, sectoral and corporate levels.Drawing upon theories of employability and employee skills, first, there is development of an analytical framework to examine how these institutional actors affect the labour market, which informs the analysis of the three case studies. The qualitative research involved an interpretative analysis of key policy documents related to graduate employability and seventy in-depth interviews with interlocutors positioned in strategic policy making, senior management, academic, expert and professional leadership roles within government, regulators, major corporations, higher education institutions, training providers and professional associations. The data was thematically analysed.Twelve key themes emerged from the in-depth interviews, which included the following: use of different language; the meaning of employability; the value of credentials; the role of the University; perceptions; expectations; competitiveness; modes of training provision; labour mobility; placements and incentives; collaboration and skills gap. The institutional actors across the three focal sectors, namely, accountancy, pharmachem and ICT tended to emphasise some themes more than others, these having previously been identified in scholarly literature (Appendix 1). Both patterns and inconsistencies emerged from a comparison of the accountancy, pharmachem and ICT sectors. In so far as the labour market is concerned, the study revealed a lack of technical skills and major non-technical graduate skills gaps, specifically, in the aspects of communication, teamwork and problem-solving. A number of professional characteristics or behaviours were also identified as lacking with Accountancy, Pharmachem and ICT graduates, namely, attitude, confidence, drive, professional outlook, independent working, personality fit and a ‘can do’ approach.The study revealed the absence of permanent systemic connections between the formulation of national and sectoral economic strategies on the one hand, and higher education and training policies on the other. Consequently, state higher education institutions have been responding reactively to labour market needs, which could explain the endemic skills gap which the study found. The study concludes by discussing limitations and limits to this research as well as recommending policy initiatives and further research that could contribute to the science and practice of public policy in this field.Key words: graduate employability, employability skills, skills gap, policy makers, labour market
Date of Award27 Jun 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsUniversity of Malta & Malta Government Scholarship Scheme
SupervisorPeter Cressey (Supervisor) & Hugh Lauder (Supervisor)


  • graduate employability
  • skills gaps
  • labour market
  • employability skills
  • policy makers

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