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Business, youth, innovation

Milan, 09/11/2018 - 10/11/2018, Conference for the Aspen Junior Fellows

Debate at this Conference for the Aspen Junior Fellows focused on the role of Italian businesses, which, in order to establish themselves within a global market, must perforce be engines of innovation, while at the same time creating social value that goes beyond the figures in their profit and loss accounts and balance sheets. The discussion also addressed the issue of youth employment, dwelling on the necessity of setting up training courses that heed the needs of the labor market and are capable of responding effectively to the changing requirements of firms.

It was felt that, on the one hand, it is incumbent on firms to innovate, an essential prerequisite in order for Italian businesses to maintain a competitive advantage based on the quality of their products, while on the other, there is the necessity for them to generate profits to the benefit (rather than at the expense) of the entire community within which they operate. Among the many points for reflection offered, the participants repeatedly stressed the importance of creating a business culture of “trial and error”, understood as both a way of giving free rein to that "breath of inspiration" (held so dear by Gaetano Zambon) which is the basis of any innovation, and as furnishing individuals with an opportunity for personal and professional development. Similarly, at various junctures the discussion returned to the issue of sustainability, by way of reaffirming that sustainable growth not only produces positive externalities of great social value, but, as confirmed by recent ISTAT data, it strengthens brands, reduces costs, and enables firms to find new markets.

The participants emphasized the need for new organizational, production, and commercial paradigms, deemed crucial in the wake of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. It was urged that the modern entrepreneur, regardless of the sector in which he/she operates, is called upon to rethink and redesign business processes and strategies to ensure a successful transition towards a digital and interconnected market. The focus once reserved solely for profit growth has now shifted to growing customers and market share. The contribution of sales to business profits has reduced in significance when compared with that stemming from returns on investment in research and intellectual property. Finally, the markedly hierarchical structure that characterized businesses in the twentieth century has given way to firms with horizontal structures operating in co-working environments, involving the use of open-space premises where discussion and sharing between all levels of organizations are encouraged.

Lastly, it was observed that innovation at firm level cannot help but depend on individuals having a cast of mind that is capable of questioning the status quo and proposing new solutions to old problems. At this point in the discussions, the participants highlighted the contradiction between the very high level of youth unemployment in the Italian labor market and the fact that one in three jobs on offer remains unfilled due to a lack of candidates with the right skillset. There is thus no shortage of jobs per se, but rather, a lack of suitable candidates to fill the roles available in the market. It was suggested that while bridging this skills gap in a constantly evolving labor market is not in itself an easy task, it would certainly be achievable if a policy coordination unit were to step in. In this way, it would be possible to ascertain the right conditions for close and ongoing collaboration between firms and training and education centers, with a view to identifying the skills required and creating training courses that would maximize employability.