Blockchain and education: is Malta’s workforce ready for the industry?

Cassi Camilleri - 14th December 2019 

Education institutions such as the University of Malta, as well as private education centres, have begun providing courses in the realm of blockchain, helping to prepare the local workforce.

In the early 2010s Malta was dubbed the ‘iGaming Capital’. Since then the industry has grown to represent over 13 per cent of the local economy, according to the National Statistics Office. Now, however, there is a new title in town – ‘Blockchain Island’. With all the DELTA summit events making headlines and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently announcing that he is setting up a new blockchain company called EFFORCE in Malta, things seem to be moving fast. But there is one concern that keeps being raised – the lack of manpower.

The most recent European Company Survey published in 2013 by Eurofound – the EU agency that provides knowledge to assist in the development of better social, employment and work-related policies – reported that 39 per cent of European Union-based firms found difficulty in attracting STEM professionals, and Malta is no exception.

Local media across all platforms has highlighted the issue of the STEM skills gap, and organisations like the Malta Council for Science and Technology have responded. Earlier this year, the Council launched an Erasmus+ project entitled RAISE that includes an Ambassador Programme to empower young students to take up the STEM mantle and rally young people into the field. However, initiatives like this, while admirable, take time to reap results, which begs the question: how is Malta preparing its workforce for this burgeoning blockchain industry now?

Dr Joshua Ellul

Dr Joshua Ellul, Chairman of Malta Digital Innovation
Authority and Director of Centre for DLTs, University of
Malta

At the University of Malta (UM), the newly-established Centre for Distributed Ledger Technologies is offering a multi-disciplinary Master of Science in Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies. One of the first courses of its kind, it will see its first student intake in October 2019.

The aim is to introduce the various disciplines within the field, giving particular attention to three areas of specialisation: ICT, law and regulation, and business and finance. Students can expect to learn about smart contracts and technology assurances by experts including Prof. Gordon J. Pace, and to gain an understanding of cryptography and how it is being used in DLT technology, leading to a deeper discussion on information security matters which are so pertinent today.

Other credits, such as the one coordinated by former UM rector Prof. Juanito Camilleri will provide students with a broad view of real-world challenges and solutions, and another delivered by business and innovation expert Prof. Russell Smith, will delve into creativity and innovation; guiding students through the process of identifying or creating new profitable opportunities; and going from idea, to product or service development.

The Masters course also provides opportunity for research and development in the field, which can also make it appealing to forward-thinking entrepreneurs. According to course coordinator and Chairman of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, Dr Joshua Ellul, “the programme includes a three-week applied project that will allow for students to focus specifically on industry-relevant problems. More so, students may choose to undertake a dissertation that is aligned with industry cutting-edge problems.”

Having begun accepting applications around May, Dr Ellul says that interest is high. “We cannot quote the number of students accepted, however we've received over 60 applications which we are currently processing,” he adds.

blockchain

Working professionals may opt to take the Masters on a part-time basis, or consider alternative educational paths. “Last year, within the University’s Centre for Liberal Arts and Science we organised two evening courses: a general introduction to blockchain for a non-technical audience; and a technical unit focusing on blockchain and smart contracts,” explains Dr Ellul. While these specific credits do not seem to be available this year, “this year we plan to host a number of introductory lectures and sessions for industry players to get up to speed with the technology,” Dr Ellul clarifies.

The private sector is responding to the need for more education in blockchain and DLT too – from STC Higher Education to IGA Training’s Blockchain Academy, to name a few. Both traditional, as well as masterclasses are available. The IGA’s Blockchain Academy specifically claims to be “built for business”, with the aim to “teach blockchain fundamentals, explore potential implementations and introduce key practical considerations.”

The education arm of IDEA Management Group – offering a wide range of management, research, training and education services – the Leadership and Management Institute, is currently offering an M.Sc. in Management with specialisation in human resource management, project management or blockchain management, which started in October. Lectures are held once a week in the evenings over a period of 30 months, totalling 300 contact hours. According to the Institute, the course is ideal for FinTech professionals such as financial managers and controllers, bankers and other experts in the field.

This is an extract of an interview featured in the October edition of Blockchain Island.


21st December 2019

‘Being part of the forum of discussion was crucial for Malta, as it’s vital for us to participate in decision-making processes which may ultimately lead to policy changes affecting Europe and its member states’.

FROM INTERVIEWS

Rebecca Anastasi - 13th December 2019

Industry insiders discuss the progress made by the updated Gaming Act, as well as difficulties the sector faces from a Europe-wide perspective.

FROM INTERVIEWS

Rebecca Anastasi - 8th December 2019

‘We’ve launched a process and this document delineates a pattern in a stream of actions to clarify a sense of direction.’

7th December

The upcoming year will involve working together with Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Malta Foundation (JAYE), MCAST and University students to organise seminars with educational and inspirational speakers on a variety of relevant topics such as start-ups, blockchain and artificial intelligence.