Environmental Landscapes Consortium, Malta: Recruitment, training and development
Established in 2003, the Environmental Landscapes Consortium (ELC) Ltd is a privatised unit of the Department of Agriculture. Located in the village of Attard in central Malta, the company specialises in the landscaping and general maintenance of parks and gardens in Malta. Its partnership with the government represents the first public–private venture in Malta. Although it is a private enterprise, ELC operates on behalf of the government and took over employees who were transferred from the Department of Agriculture. Wied Incita Europa Nursery is the main production site for plants, trees and shrubs and where maintenance work is carried out. Wied Incita also houses the company’s headquarters, which is run by the management group, field officers and several clerical and organisational staff, who were selected, trained and upgraded from the existing workforce. At present, the company employs a total of 296 workers comprising 290 men and six women, most (about 57%) of whom are over 45 years of age. ELC employs 145 skilled workers, 126 unskilled personnel, 20 drivers (and others) and five professional and managerial employees. Owing to the high average age of the workforce, some 58 employees are set to retire within the next five years and more than 100 workers within the next 10 years. As a result, ELC is currently drafting an age-balanced recruitment policy.
As the company values its older workers, older unemployed workers are regularly recruited. The management and employee representatives meet periodically in an atmosphere of cooperation. Decisions are generally taken by the company, which subsequently informs the trade unions, usually without particular agreements being signed.
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ELC participated in the national Training and Employment Exposure Scheme (TEES) organised by the government’s Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) for the recruitment of older unemployed workers. Subsequently, the company introduced a continuous training programme to manage the change from being a public to a private organisation. In addition, the company promotes initiatives, such as further training, for its own employees, without discriminating against older staff members. Since 2005, ELC has recruited 12 older workers who have participated in the TEES scheme.
This scheme for older long-term unemployed people, such as those who have been unemployed for longer than six months, aims at retraining and reinstating into the labour market unemployed people aged over 40 years. In Malta, the definition of ‘older worker’ encompasses people aged 40 years and over, due to the country’s young demographic profile. In 2005 and 2006, after an initial month-long course run by ETC, a total of 60 trainee workers were hosted in three eight-week periods by ELC, during which they attended training courses, involving partial on-the-job training. The training course covered many aspects of the job including, among other topics: soil preparation; layout of flowerbeds; basic design of flowerbeds; planting and aftercare; health and safety; methods of watering. Subsequently, ELC recruited 12 of these 60 workers – 11 men and one woman – for various tasks. The woman was assigned to office duties in the nursery, while another worker was employed as an auto electrician, one as an irrigation system fitter, one for general duties in the maintenance section and the remaining eight workers for gardening duties.
The main reason for this recruitment drive was a need for more staff at ELC. However, a further incentive to participate in the TEES scheme lay in the fact that this government initiative offers companies several advantages, such as the possibility to assess candidates with no obligation to hire them at the end of the training period. In addition, ELC considers it a sort of ‘social duty’ to help in the placement of unemployed older persons in jobs.
The trade unions were not involved in the implementation process; the company managed the initiative through Outlook Coop, the scheme’s Management Company, which acted as an intermediary. With regard to costs, the government paid trainees the minimum legal wage during the training period, while ELC was paid as a training provider under the TEES scheme for the three training courses it ran for the scheme’s trainees. Once the workers were recruited, the scheme paid the first weekly amount of MTL 60 (about €140 as at 30 April 2007) of the TEES’ participants’ wages for the first six months of recruitment.
The initiative did not differentiate according to gender. ELC currently employs only six women because the employees who transferred from the Department of Agriculture were mostly men. It is the company’s objective, however, to achieve a better gender balance in its workforce in the future.
Originally developed for older employees, the TEES scheme takes an ‘age-group’ approach. In the future, however, ELC intends to recruit both younger workers (who can gain experience as they mature) and older workers (to guarantee quality and experience in the short term).
To date, the initiative can be viewed as being successful, as both employers and employees are satisfied with the current situation. TEES participants often gain experience of working for more than one company during on-the-job training. For instance, one of the employees started his training in a metal and machinery company, then moved to another company, but finally decided that he did not like the type of work involved. He subsequently joined ELC, a move that has proved satisfactory for both the company and the worker. Once recruited, older employees tend to do their utmost to repay the trust that they have been shown by their employer; indeed, at ELC, the newly-hired older workers were highly motivated to learn about the job. After some initial difficulties due to their long absence from the labour market, those who participated in the TEES scheme realised that the company’s intentions regarding training and recruitment were serious, and no major problems arose. Any difficulties were overcome particularly through effective dialogue between company representatives who pointed out the positive aspects of the work and TEES participants. From the company’s point of view, one potential improvement that could be made to the scheme would be to provide greater benefits, such as tax breaks, for companies that hire TEES participants.
In a national context, the Maltese government shows interest in the issue of employability of older unemployed workers, in line with the provisions of the European Employment Strategy (EES).
Participation in the government’s initiative taught ELC a great deal about the positive characteristics of older workers. For instance, people aged over 40 years are less likely to give up their jobs than younger workers, who often have different aspirations. In short, older workers tend to be more loyal to the company.
ELC intends to continue recruiting older workers. Given that many workers will be retiring in the near future, the company aims to balance the age profile of its workforce by hiring both younger and older employees.
The abovementioned initiative is not the only one implemented by the company for its employees. Other programmes involve the entire staff and not just older workers. On becoming a private company in 2003, the current personnel were transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the ELC. The difficult task of adapting the attitudes and practices of these employees to the new situation was addressed right from the outset.
This move required retraining of the workforce both with regard to practical aspects, such as the use of new tools but also in terms of changing their outlook from a ‘public’ to a ‘private’ perspective – it is often the case in Malta that public sector employees are characterised by lack of motivation and widespread absenteeism. After some initial difficulties, the training programme succeeded in motivating personnel. The training consisted of: leadership and motivation exercises for section heads; team building exercises for supervisors; a gardener’s refresher course; traffic management; and fist aid instruction for all employees. The main positive result was that the initially very high absenteeism rate among workers was reduced. This training is still ongoing.
Furthermore, with regard to wage policy, all ETC employees receive a personal quarterly-based wage bonus calculated on the basis of their productivity and flexibility in carrying out different duties. This strategy has also helped to curtail ‘moonlighting’ – whereby individuals work more than one job – which was formerly common among the workers.
- Ronald D. Cuschieri, General Manager, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Peter Calamatta, Chairman
- Norman Mifsud, Head of Human Resources department, email: email@example.com
- George Mifsud, TEES participant