Since the archipelago is lacking in natural resources, working in Malta was limited to fishing and subsistence-level agriculture in harder times. However, the islands have also known several periods of prosperity during their long history.
Due to Malta’s location, it is hardly surprising that economic booms were mostly connected to a strong military presence and an equally strong focus on trade. Both the Knights of St John and the British colonials depended on Malta’s ports and dockyards.
However, Malta has lost its military importance since the Second World War. Today’s economy still relies on foreign trade to a considerable extent, as a significant source of income for those working in Malta.
The only mineral resource that Malta possesses is limestone. It has several uses in the construction industry, e.g. as a raw material for cement and mortar, as building stone, or as aggregate, which forms the base for paved roadways. Nonetheless, the number of people working in Malta’s quarries is mostly negligible, as are those employed in agribusiness.
Malta produces various crops like potatoes, grapes, wheat, barley, tomatoes, and citrus fruits, but they are not even enough to meet domestic needs. With a rather limited area of arable land available, a mere 1.5% of the general labor force is currently employed in Malta’s agricultural sector.
In the manufacturing sector, ship-building used to make a major contribution to Malta’s economy. In the 19th century, the shipyards of the Royal Navy offered a good way to earn a living to many people working in Malta. Malta Drydocks, a 20th-century state-of-the-art shipyard, then took over this function — until its recent closure in 2010, when government subsidies had become too high and profits too low. Despite that setback, ship maintenance and repairs keep providing some job opportunities.
Nowadays the Maltese government prefers to back high-end manufacturing and potential growth sectors, especially electronics, semi-conductors, and the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, some well-known toys and games requisites are produced in Malta. Playmobil, the German manufacturer of popular plastic figurines, has a factory there.
The service sector is by far the most important provider of jobs for those working in Malta. Logistics, shipping, and storage have replaced the fitting out of sailing vessels or the refueling of steamships.
But just like in centuries past, Malta serves as a stepping stone to the Mediterranean market for plenty of businesses and as a base of operations for North Africa or the Middle East. Malta has one of the largest shipping registers in Europe, and its freeport is a major trans-shipment center for container goods. If you have professional experience in transport or trade, working in Malta as an expat might therefore be ideal.
In addition to commerce, IT and communications, as well as finance and real estate, play another important role in Malta’s national economy. To the relief of all employees in the banking sector, the local financial institutions weathered the global downturn in 2008/09 far better than their overseas competitors. This positive development is often ascribed to the strict legal regulations that control the Maltese banks.
So far, Malta’s economy has remained relatively unaffected by all the crises in the Eurozone, and the prognosis for 2016 predicts a slow, but relatively stable and continuous growth.
Unfortunately, the worldwide economic crisis briefly left its mark on Malta after all. Those working in Malta’s tourism industry were strongly affected for a while — a rather unpleasant effect as about 20% of all jobs depend on tourism. Luckily, this has now blown over. With 1.58 million visitors, the tourism industry reached a new record high in 2013, with an additional increase of 1 million in 2014, and the Maltese economy in general is going strong!
An increasingly popular sub-segment of the service sector is the outsourcing of film productions to Malta. Due to their stunning scenery the islands seem to be the perfect setting for “swords and sandals” blockbusters and fantasy spectacles. So, the Hollywood versions of ancient Greece in Troy and Rome in Gladiator or the fantastic city of “Pentos” in the US show Game of Thrones were actually brought to life by people working in Malta.
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