Why many young skilled workers cannot find a job in Italy


As of: May 9, 2024 4:22 p.m

While skilled workers are urgently needed elsewhere in Europe, many well-educated young people cannot find jobs in Italy. Much of this problem is homemade.

Marlen di Nocco lives alone in a stylishly furnished apartment in the Roman district of Testaccio – and she has already achieved more than many others in her generation. Young people in Italy live at home the longest in Europe.

Her parents literally kicked her out when she was 19, says Di Nocco, and pushed her to study abroad: engineering in Karlsruhe. This should give her better opportunities on the job market. She finished her studies in Germany and could have easily worked at Bosch or Daimler.

But then homesickness set in and Marlen wanted to go back to friends and family. Even though she knew that her job security would then be over.

“Cheating to Survive”

Now the 34-year-old is sitting at the living room table in the small apartment with her laptop. She works for a non-governmental organization based in Rome. Eleven months a year, then she has to take vacation – so that there is no entitlement to a permanent position.

And this is what happens to many well-trained professionals their age. 40 percent of employees up to the age of 34 have fixed-term or seasonal contracts. In the rest of the population it is around 13 percent.

“Many of my friends work under precarious conditions. And there is a lot of undeclared work,” she says. “The tax burden is so high that you don’t bring home enough money at the end of the month just through regular work. And then you suddenly start cheating a little – just to survive.”

Salaries are almost a quarter lower than in Germany

In Italy, the average gross annual wage is around 27,000 euros, which is twelve percent less than the EU average and 23 percent less than the German average. Employees under 34 earn an average of around 16,000 euros.

A permanent, well-paid contract – a rarity for Italy’s youth. “To get a higher position within an organization, what counts most is years of service. Perhaps in Germany it is more common to have a boss who is 30 years old. I have never experienced that in Italy. As a young person, you always have to “Start at the bottom,” says Marlen.

Experts are observing a dangerous development for Italy’s economy: more and more well-educated university graduates are emigrating abroad. Up to 20,000 per year – the numbers have tripled in the past ten years.

North-south divide at risk competitiveness

Christina Freguja heads the labor market department at the Ista statistics agency. She sees increasing difficulties in finding and retaining skilled workers, especially in the south. But they would be urgently needed for a modernization of the economy and an upswing.

While the North still benefits from emigrants from the South, the South loses tens of thousands of valuable workers every year.

“If the very people who could stimulate innovation and bring companies to a level of competitiveness leave, then we will continue to lose touch with Europe,” fears Freguja.

The concept of “family business” is widespread

The gap is exacerbated by traditional economic structures in many parts of Italy and the large number of small family businesses. These companies often employ family members and invest little in skills and digitalization, says Freguja.

“This makes it more difficult for them to compete internationally. Because they are family-run and small, they focus mainly on the domestic market and do not see the need to acquire young people from outside the family.” As a result, young people cannot find jobs and the companies become outdated.

Women have a much harder time in the job market

Young women have a particularly difficult time on the Italian job market. They are offered fixed-term contracts much more often than their male colleagues. This is partly due to the choice of subject, but also to a cultural heritage that to this day gives women the majority of responsibility for family and children.

A poor supply of crèches and kindergarten places – especially in the south – reinforces the fact that women have to choose between work and family.

“I’ll just walk out of here”

Marlen di Nocco closes her laptop for the day in her Roman apartment and goes out onto the piazza. Another reason why she returned from Germany.

“In Germany you have to make an appointment two or three weeks in advance. Here I just go out and always meet someone with whom I can talk or have a beer.” She missed socializing. And a bit of warmth. But she would have had more security in Germany.

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