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The Future of Labor

Hybrid format - Bologna, 17/05/2022, National Roundtable

The transformations triggered by the pandemic offer an opportunity to make some structural changes that the Italian labor market has needed for years.  If, on the one hand, the spread of remote working can, within the specificities of individual sectors of the economy, offer a chance to better reconcile work with free time and family commitments, on the other the Covid crisis has had heavy repercussions on some categories that were already at a disadvantage to begin with. This is the case of young people and especially women whose under 50% employment in Italy is far below that of the more advanced economies of Europe.

The challenge of women’s employment must be viewed as one facing the overall society. Indeed, with such a significant part of the active population penalized, the national economy has accumulated delays of up to 6% of GDP. It is therefore important to find out what organizational and cultural reasons lie behind this.  In the first place, the undeniable difference in pay between men and women due, to some extent, to a lack of parent support services. The data of the last two years of the pandemic show that due to this pay gap women are the first to leave their jobs when family need arise. Despite their representing the majority of college graduates, women have a hard time staying in the job market and pursuing a career if they become mothers; this negatively affects the birthrate, which in Italy remains among the lowest in Europe. The upshot being a shrinking, ageing population and the obvious adverse impact that has on the economy and on prosperity in general.

Post-pandemic recovery fueled by the resources made available by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) thus becomes an opportunity to retool the structural mechanisms that govern the labor market.

To prepare young people adequately for the challenges of the future Italy must make the most of its strong points, beginning with the solid theoretical underpinning provided by the educational system. That means working especially on the current gap between job supply and demand, focusing in particular on the better development of scientific and technical (STEM) skills. This effort cannot be left solely to the school system, but must be a joint public/private undertaking that involves local economic, social and institutional actors.

Nevertheless, it is going to be fundamental to change the paradigm by which the educational system is assessed: no longer as an expense but as an investment. Because only by investing in the increased participation of citizens in economic and social activities, avoiding the segregation of some segments of the population from the work world, will Italy be able to confront the challenges that a rapidly changing world poses to the nation’s economy.