In Italy, social problems have always been more easily visible in certain areas in the south of the country, with reference to highly differentiated target groups of people. The paradox - not just in Italy - is that poverty fails to encourage participation in the world of training and employment. What is the situation in Italy during the current European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, and how can training make the difference?
(InfoNet - Teresa La Marca)
"Providing citizens with enhanced and more marketable skills always makes an immediate contribution towards an improvement in economic indicators (i.e., higher productivity, lower unemployment rates, etc.), as well as social indicators (citizen ability to demand the rights associated with citizenship)", states Antonello Scialdone, Director of the ISFOL (Institute for the Development of Vocational Training for Workers), a national agency for promotion of the Lifelong Learning Programme and co-author of a recent research paper on poverty in Italy.
A Eurobarometer research paper on poverty and social inclusion, recently presented at Brussels, showed that 8 European citizens out of 10 believe that poverty restricts access to higher education, while 74% of those who responded said they felt that poverty restricts chances of finding employment. In effect, Scialdone remarks, "In Italy, particularly in precisely those regions of the south suffering the highest levels of poverty and unemployment, the range of continued and life-long training services has to struggle hard to meet the highest standards of training quality. The territorial variable is therefore a rather delicate one. Of course, this is just another illustration of the need to increase and enhance the effectiveness of the systems and structures intended for the broadest strata of at-risk groups".
The employment and training situation in Italy is a difficult one, as shown by the fact that the proportion of individuals living below the poverty level - compared to total population - ranges from 35.5% to 45.2% in the south of the country. Cross-referenced against the most recent unemployment data for the country as a whole, this fact shows an increase in unemployment rates for 2009, to be followed by further, anticipated, increases in 2010 and 2011. These rates are in line with the unemployment rates within the Euro zone generally, in which unemployment appears destined to reach 10% in the second half of 2010 - a new record for the post-war period (OECD data).
In Italy, according to European data, the Italian unemployment rate figures are aggravated by the fact that the transition from academic education to employment is more prolonged than in other European countries, and is often complicated by long periods of unemployment and temporary employment, followed, in many cases, by a return to unemployment. The principal disadvantaged groups are as follows: the young, unqualified workers, immigrants, ethnic minorities, and persons engaged in temporary or atypical employment.
IMMIGRANTS AND TRAINING
The equation "The lower the educational level = The fewer the training opportunities" is further demonstrated by the experiences of migrants themselves. A research paper on migrant integration, conducted by the Institute and covering four regions of the central north, shows that the demand for the training and education of foreign citizens living in Italy is increasing gradually, in near proportion to the increased migratory flows affecting Italy. "The study reveals one very interesting fact, though", Mr. Scialdone remarks, "it demonstrates the existence of a sort of vicious circle, in which the demand for vocational training and adult educational opportunities is significantly correlated with the cultural level of the immigrants themselves. In other words, utilisation of the structures intended to offer these programmes and opportunities increases proportionally with the educational level of the target group of persons concerned".
MEASURES TO COMBAT THE LACK OF TRAINING
"There is a need for reorientation, towards an approach intended to provide training incentives. In other words", Scialdone remarks, "if we are to be successful in achieving the social integration and employment inclusion of the target groups concerned, the more vulnerable categories of persons involved will required supervision, for the purpose of preventing them from losing contact with the job markets and subsiding into inactivity. For this reason, persons participating in reintegration programmes and receiving compensation must be encouraged to maintain an active attitude of mind; they must participate in training programmes and actively search for work, because if they do not, they may forfeit their social and economic support. Only the development of skills and the utilisation of training opportunities will enable these persons to fill the so-called ‘new jobs´, including the so-called ‘emerging´ new jobs".
To sum up, the Director of the Italian Institute for the Development of Vocational Training of Workers listed the following principal features in need of improvement, some of which have already referred to by the OECD:
- need for more equitable adult training and educational programmes involving larger numbers of participants;
- need to ensure the consistently high quality of adult training and educational programmes;
- need for the development of systems for the recognition and convalidation of vocational qualifications and experience;
- need for investment in the education and training of older adults and migrants.
"These particular aspects of the problem may usefully be combined with Community programmes relating to active inclusion already providing - as noted above - for the promotion of job markets more attentive to the characteristics and requirements of the weakest members of society, the creation of income support measures and the possibility of access to quality social services".