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Generation Y and the employment challenge

Presentation of Aspenia 62
Rome, 16/12/2013, Aspenia
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At this event to discuss the latest issue of the Aspenia journal, it was observed that growth and jobs figures continue to deliver an undeniably worrying outlook for Europe, and Italy in particular. The Italian economy is still losing jobs, especially positions for young people, while the recovery is set to be slow (and uneven as between different parts of the country), with the expected increase in job opportunities falling below GDP growth. This phenomenon was attributed to structural factors – namely, a progressive decline in the overall competitiveness of the Italian economy recorded for many years well before the onset of the current crisis – and to the shortcomings of the country’s industrial system, more so than of individual sectors or firms. Against this backdrop, the crisis has in recent years led to the demise of many businesses, to the impoverishment not just of the wider public but also of the country’s industrial backbone and production base. This was seen as inevitably having negative repercussions on employment in the medium and possibly long-term, and therefore on internal demand, with the risk of entering a spiral from which it would be difficult to emerge.

To avoid this scenario, it was deemed necessary to focus primarily on the strengths of the Italian industrial system, which include a high-quality manufacturing sector, the creativity and flexibility of Italy’s medium- and small-sized firms, and the indispensable role played by Italy’s (few) large internationally competitive companies in key sectors such as energy, infrastructure and more advanced services.

It was suggested that the Italian and European situation needs to be read in a global context, which is undergoing a phase of rapid technological innovation (both in production processes and in consumer goods and services). The introduction of new technologies on a massive scale has always had a disruptive impact, and hence adverse consequences on certain sectors and those working within them (or at least the less skilled among their ranks). Historically, however, the range and quality of products have reaped benefits, which has also been to the advantage of employment and consumers. It is thus a question of managing the delicate transition involved in this specific phase of the post-industrial age, which among other things encompasses a partial re-industrialization of advanced economies, giving rise to important opportunities for those who know how to seize them.

Bearing these challenges in mind, serious deficiencies were identified in Italy’s education and training system, especially as regards the linkage between schools and the workplace. While it was acknowledged that opinions might vary on the priority to be accorded in the current jobs climate to a scientific and technical education as compared with a grounding in the humanities, it was felt that ultimately it is a mix of skills that would probably furnish the most effective solution. It was considered just as crucial, however, to ensure better mechanisms for matching supply and demand, with a view to making the most of the human capital already available but currently underutilized.

From a comparative standpoint, it was stressed that there are no real pre-established (and especially static) models that can solve the problems of employment and growth. Even the “German model” – though serving as an important point of reference when taken as a whole – exhibits weak points and contributes to dangerous and well-known imbalances at a European level. What was instead regarded as essential was constant adaptation and a strong dose of pragmatism in the implementation of economic policies, and in any event a vision of the country’s industrial system which includes central government, local authorities, associations and firms. Only equipped with such a holistic vision will it be possible to also reduce the risk of intergenerational rifts, which in turn tend to produce social tensions. It was remarked, in conclusion, that despite the gravity of the employment situation for all age groups, policies in support of youth employment are a priority because they represent an investment in the future, and could hence help create a flywheel effect to the advantage of a solid and lasting recovery.