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9 oktober 2014

Seminar Italy

During the debate held in Rome during the Professional Advisory Body meeting and National workshop many issues concerning the main features of the Italian labour market emerged. Here below a synthetic list.

The high fragmentation and a strong regional differentiation are mentioned as key issues. Both, are related to the large number of small enterprises and a strong territorial economic divide that generates a true dualism between the centre-north and the south of the country.

The progressive shift towards low skills jobs. That's why we see a mismatch between growing levels of skills among young people and the jobs they find. This entails disappointment and forces many young people to go abroad, even though the vast majority stays at home, trapped.

The term ''NEET'' (not in employment nor in education or in training) is not able to identify a clear cut category of young people, rather a highly heterogeneous one, unable to convey the complexity of real social conditions behind this loose category. Sometimes it seems more a one-catch-all term to blame victims. Thousands of young people, mainly located in southern Italy, have concluded university curricula but they don't find any kind of job. While they are waiting they have not access to a bearable offer of training programs.

Passive labour market policies (e.g. wage compensation, ...) have given a clear help to labour market resilience, even if they are a legacy of a variety of old - highly fragmented - benefits created for specific categories of workers. Many unemployed are partially or not covered at all. If passive policies seem to work as long as they reach people in needs, active policies - focused only on the supply side of the labour market or on matching supply and demand - seem to be clearly unable to involve more people. Indeed, active labour policies do not provide new jobs like economic policies are expected to do. Any kind of benefit, from credit to networking, which is able to give spread innovation among small enterprises can be considered as labour creation.

Active labour policies in Italy are shaped by multilevel governance arrangements while passive ones are mainly centrally regulated. Regional and local authorities and a plurality of institutional actors have given life to a patchwork of different services entailing different access rules, different organization of public actors, different agreements among employers, unions and public authorities. These differences produces specific sets of passive and active benefits providing unemployed people with completely different opportunity structures.

Public Employment Services (PES). Italy used to have a public monopoly of employment services. Now there is large number of public and private actors that do this job. Private agencies are interested in selecting people that are easily employable to take grants. Difficult cases, that often would need not only information but active social intervention, are left to public services. Public Employment Services (Job Centres) are managed by local authorities in a frame of regional law. A few of them have boosted some innovative policies but paradoxically this has happened mainly where the labour market is working better and resources available are higher. The large majority of PES have not the expertise, the power and the resources to fulfil the task. Expertise is instead spread in a lot of state and local offices. Funding is limited or available through EU programs. One example is the management of vocational training, which often turns into a sort of reserve for highly marginalized individuals. The good local experiences are then limited by the institutional structure, all too often innovative efforts in Italy become an attempt to bypass the institutional structure.

PES can improve the quality of the matching, but it is doubtful whether this is really a main goal, since even private agencies make matching activities, and there are also informal contacts that serve this function. It might be useful to regulate the matching activity in a complementary way providing a framework to support all agencies and to facilitate the exchange of information.

PES may have a dual function: on the one side they provide social inclusionary options, reaching those subjects who remained outside the private matching and have weak informal networks. On the other side, in doing so, they should link with passive policies and all other support measures. That should help avoiding the short circuit among different kinds of policies that sometimes trap vulnerable people in revolving door effects, in particular for those who are too short of qualifications to exit quickly the system.

The choice of vulnerable categories bears a methodological problem. Those identified by the INSPIRES project seem to be too large with some overlapping profiles. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to identify the targets against which to assess specific policies. For instance, among active policies we should consider family policies for reconciling work and family, taking into account the new working conditions. We should consider also all kinds of policies that can avoid the de-professionalization or the loss of the ''habit-to-work'' that comes with long-term unemployment and long waiting periods for a job. There is awareness that a skilled workforce can ''get lost'' if it is expelled from work places for a long time. Unemployed older than 50 are a vulnerable category. Immigrants are an even more vulnerable category, because when they leave regular jobs they cannot renew their permit to stay and so they are forced in black or illegal labour market. The crisis leads immigrants into two main trends: changing tasks and duties of the adaptation to the lowest level, or change the migration project. Many of them went back to their country.

In Italy, training programs show little evidence of results in making people find a job. Some of them are set up in order to comply with the rules for getting European Social Funds. Some other are unable to fit with new or unpredictable market changes. Solutions to keep people off unemployment rather than providing them with concrete opportunities to exit the condition of unemployment finding a new job coherently with the contents of the training activity.

Other actors' role. Entrepreneurs associations, unions and public agencies have made agreements to set up passive and even active policies in order to strengthen labour market resilience. Thank to these agreements between firms and employees, internal labour flexibility, reduction of production costs, solidarity contracts and other kinds of innovative (for Italy) solutions have been experienced to boost export led production. The internal market, however, is still too weak.

The training/education and labour market demand mismatch. Besides the cases of over-skilled people there are many cases in which specific skills are not available on market. Training systems do not take care of them. Training for workers inside firms is quite a rare activity and it is declining with the boom of non-standard and short term job that involve the majority of new workers. Schools and universities are beginning to try a better match with local labour markets but experiences are still sporadic and isolated. A lot has still to be done, especially in the field of ''schools to work'' programs.

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