Heritage Malta, Malta: Training and development
Heritage Malta is a national government agency, which was created by the state to improve the country’s cultural services. In operation since 1 January 2003, the organisation is committed to the management and promotion of Malta’s traditional cultural heritage. The agency’s head office is located in the capital city Valetta on the country’s east coast. Its mission is to ensure that those elements of cultural heritage entrusted to it are protected and made accessible to the public.
After its foundation, Heritage Malta took over the 240 employees from the former Museum Department. The agency’s staff now consists of custodians, guides and wardens, plus an increasing number of personnel with key expertise in management and conservation. At present, the agency employs 265 workers, of whom 202 are men. About 45% of the workforce is aged over 45 years. The ‘core’ members of the staff are the 129 employees who act as museum officers or perform front-office activities. The security department is run by 65 employees, while the maintenance section employs 29 tradespeople such as electricians and carpenters. Furthermore, 22 managerial and professional staff work for the agency. Staff turnover is rather limited, and sometimes it can be difficult to find skilled staff for the conservation of art works carved from wood and wood sculptures in general.
Older workers are treated equally and have access to equal opportunities in working conditions. From the beginning, training was obligatory for all employees. However, as the training programmes progressed, employees who showed a positive attitude towards learning were given the support and encouragement to take part in further training. The company aimed to get young employees involved, while also encouraging older employees to join the training sessions as it requires their knowledge and experience to train younger workers.
Trade unions are represented in the agency. The atmosphere for dialogue is cooperative and employee representatives are consulted on all matters concerning workers.
Good practice today
Heritage Malta’s area of best practice is in the field of training. The training initiative began in 2003, when the newly-formed agency had to address the lack of skills and low motivation among the workforce, deriving from a massive employee transfer from the Museum Department to Heritage Malta. The employees who were transferred to work for the new agency had no previous formal training. As a result, the agency set up training courses at various levels with the underlying aim of re-motivating the workforce by means of a cultural change. This involved encouraging the workers, about half of whom were over 45 years of age, to adopt a more positive approach towards their job and towards visitors. The initiative is ongoing and is open to all employees regardless of their age. The courses mainly address basic skills training, customer care, team building and similar fields, in order to improve on and integrate the existing expertise of employees. In addition, Heritage Malta encourages its employees to participate in external studies for diplomas, language classes and masters courses, by funding 70% of each of these initiatives for all workers, regardless of their age. To date, several workers have taken advantage of this opportunity.
The main reason for implementing the initiative was the agency’s need to introduce a cultural change within its workforce, which often lacked motivation and cooperation. This is a general problem endured by private companies that employ public sector workers; the latter are characterised as being less motivated and as showing high rates of absenteeism.
Once the agency implemented the training initiative, a large proportion of the workforce participated in these courses – not least because the courses took place outside of office hours and participants were paid overtime for attending. Sometimes, the training courses are provided by external trainers, for example, from the University of Malta.
The initiative is a continuous effort and aims to cover the entire working life of employees. Such an approach has a positive effect on career development among these workers. In the event of vacancies, Heritage Malta is obliged by regulation to seek the most suitable candidate within its own workforce before recruiting people from the external labour market. On occasion, courses are tailored to meet the needs of specific age groups. A recent example concerns an employee who was going through a critical period due to his imminent retirement. The employee gained satisfaction from attending a course that focused on coping strategies during this period of transition. Although the course was not part of the agency’s regular training programme, all older workers could attend such training if needed.
The training initiative has had an excellent impact on the workforce. Some workers initially resisted taking part, especially older and more diffident workers who had no experience in training courses and who found it difficult to understand the agency’s need to instigate a change in the mentality of its staff. However, this attitude was gradually overcome when the agency reassured the workers that the initiative’s primary aim was to improve their working conditions. The most positive effects in terms of improved work performances, however, were recorded in the period immediately after the training course, and follow-up courses have confirmed the need for the training to be repeated at regular intervals.
From the older workers’ perspective, the outcome of training has been positive as a considerable improvement is evident in all of their activities, with employees appearing to be more motivated in their work in general. Nonetheless, a problem remains regarding the relationships with the newly-recruited personnel over the last three years, the majority of whom are young people. As a university degree is very often a necessary pre-condition for younger candidates to obtain a job, technical training alone is sometimes not sufficient to bridge the cultural gap between older workers and the younger graduate employees, especially when academic qualifications are required for career advancement. For this reason, although no age-related discrimination is made against older workers, a definite trend is emerging towards hiring a younger workforce. Older employees are therefore asking the government to introduce changes in regulations governing internal career advancement, in order to attribute greater value to experience – for example, in terms of length of service – alongside academic qualifications.
The agency achieved its objective of re-motivating its personnel through the training programmes. Furthermore, as a result of the initiative, older workers established a balanced relationship with the younger, more recently employed workers in terms of competencies and motivation. At the same time, the agency benefits from the higher degree of loyalty and commitment that it obtains from is older staff. With the help of these initiatives, levels of sick leave have also been reduced, although this had never been a major issue for the organisation before.
The local situation in Malta is not necessarily conducive to the success of such good practice measures. In particular, the country’s tourism sector is undergoing a critical period due to a decrease in the overall number of visitors to the island. Despite the excellent results achieved by Heritage Malta as a result of its recent initiatives, the number of tourists to the country has not increased. This problem represents only part of a more general debate on tourism issues that also involves other stakeholders. While hoping for an improvement in international tourism, Heritage Malta is working towards increasing the number of local clients, and for this purpose it would like to become a partner and to collaborate with the Education Department.
To manage cultural change in the organisation, Heritage Malta has recognised the importance of adopting a good approach to training, not only by employees but also by heads of departments, who must also share that change in attitudes and outlook that is requested from the workforce. In fact, the company has also organised a number of training sessions for managers on the basic principles of managing change and on employee motivation, which includes training on how the workers respond to either traditional or any other management styles.
In the future, Heritage Malta intends to develop other new training courses for its employees. For example, through the ‘train the trainer’ programme, a personalised analysis of the authentic needs of each employee will be conducted. Furthermore, the company hopes that a ‘communication’ programme will be successful in its objectives; this latter programme aims to train employees about the best ways to communicate with specific groups of clients, such as children, elderly people and families.
- Mario Cutajar, Head of Human Resources and Visitor Services, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mario Casha, Training coordinator and employee representative, email: email@example.com