Italian companies are closing the skills gap with their schooling

Italian companies are closing the skills gap with their schooling

  Vocational schools fail to produce students with the right expertise.

Vocational schools fail to produce students with the right expertise. | Photo Credit: Reuters

After years of informal work as a farm labourer, Federico Olivieri, 29, couldn’t believe it when a huge building site sprung up near his home in Sicily, offering training for a range of specialised jobs.

The program, run by Italy's largest construction group Webuild, is one of a growing number of “academies” run and funded by companies frustrated by job seekers who lack the necessary knowledge.

“We are proactively approaching this problem. If the skills are not there, we will develop them ourselves,” Gianluca Grondona, Webuild's chief human resources, organization and systems officer, told Reuters about the group's program.

The skills imbalance is an international problem, but is acute in Italy, where it has the lowest employment rate in the EU and productivity has stagnated for two decades.

vacancy rate

Data from the EU statistics agency Eurostat shows that despite a large number of people looking for work or outside the labour market, the vacancy rate stood at 2.5% in the first quarter of 2024, in line with the EU average. This compares with 2.8% in France and 0.9% in Spain over the same period.

Vocational schools and colleges in Italy are fewer and less popular than in most European countries, and those that do exist fail to produce students with the right specialisation, think tank Prometea said in a June report.

At the same time, it said, many young people are still studying subjects with low market demand, such as humanities.

The problem has become more acute with the rapid development of new technologies, as Rome is investing nearly 200 billion euros ($214 billion) in EU-backed infrastructure projects as part of its post-COVID recovery plan.

Large firms such as Webuild, shipbuilder Fincantieri and state railway group Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) are taking matters into their own hands. In addition to apprenticeships, FS liaises with universities and schools to offer students more targeted courses.

Digital, AI job skills

“As the company changes, skills also change and we need specific capabilities, especially when it comes to digital and artificial intelligence-based jobs,” said Adriano Mureddu, its chief human resources officer.

Mr Olivieri joined Webuild's programme this year and now works with tunnel boring machines at its site on the east coast of Sicily. “This course is an incredible opportunity for anyone who is keen to learn something new… you can't miss a chance like this,” he said.

Webuild aims to recruit 3,000 of its 10,000 new employees over the next three years from its work academies. These academies are close to its infrastructure work sites, mainly in southern regions where unemployment is high.

Lorenzo Esposito Corcione, 19, who studied at the Nautical School of Genoa, is one of 80 people employed by Fincantieri to be trained under its 'Masters of the Sea' programme, which attracted 17,000 applicants.

“Without this course I wouldn't be here,” Mr Esposito Corcione told Reuters at the end of his shift as an electrics fitter at a shipyard in the northeastern port of Monfalcone.

The Number Dilemma

Italy faces a problem not just of skills but also of numbers. It has one of the world's oldest populations and one of the lowest fertility rates, at 1.2 children per woman, and the baby-boomers of the 1960s are now retiring. That means that over the next five years, Italy will need 3.1 to 3.6 million new workers, trade group Unioncamera estimates.

The national statistics office ISTAT estimates that Italy's population will shrink by almost five million by 2050, and more than a third of those people will be over 65. Young people are in great need in many industries, from construction and tourism to agriculture.

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