Training becomes an important issue in the Italian industrial relations system

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The Italian social partners have traditionally had little involvement in the vocational training system, but this has been changing over recent years. This feature outlines the stages in the social partners' increasing involvement in training, culminating in the presentation of an innovative reform bill to the Council of Ministers in June 1997.

The vocational training system in Italy has long been characterised by the scant involvement of the social partners, and by their substantial lack of interest in the issue. However, the situation has altered in recent years, and the process of change has apparently accelerated. An agreement signed by employers and trade unions in January 1993 inaugurated a new phase which saw unions and institutions directly involved in the renewal of training policies. Other important stages in this process have been the tripartite agreement between Government and the social partners of July 1993, and the Pact for Employment signed in September 1996. In January 1997, the Minister of Education, Luigi Berlinguer, presented a working document for reform of the educational system which also set out innovative proposals concerning vocational training. In June, after wide-ranging debate, the bill based on this document was converted into a bill submitted for scrutiny by the Council of Ministers.

Reform and growing importance for industrial relations

The main stages in the reform of the Italian training system and in its growing importance for the country's industrial relations system are as follows.

  • Agreement on training between employers' associations and confederal unions. Signed on 20 January 1993 by the three trade union confederations (CGIL, CISL, UIL) and the Confindustria employers' confederation, the agreement's overall aim was to reorganise training activities and redefine the responsibilities of the various institutional levels (the Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Universities and Ministry of Labour and Social Security), while also encouraging intervention by the unions as agents of innovation. To this end, the agreement proposed the creation of a national committee for vocational training which comprised representatives from the three Ministries and from the employers' associations and trade unions. The specific goals set for the committee were the following: promotion of further training, until then practically non-existent, through means including the creation of in-company funds partly financed by the EU; the nationally-coordinated monitoring of training needs at regional level; reform of the 1978 law on vocational training; and reform of the upper secondary school system.
  • Tripartite agreement on incomes policy. The agreement signed by the Government and the social partners in July 1993 contained a long chapter on employment support policies, and therefore also on vocational training. The social partners undertook to promote all forms of employment contracts including training: principally work/training contract s, which could now be applied to workers aged up to 32 (the previous limit was 29), but also apprenticeship contracts.
  • Pact for Employment. This agreement, signed by the Government and the social partners in September 1996 (IT9702201F), sought to implement an extraordinary employment support plan. The first chapter of the package of measures concerned innovation of the training system. The goals of the Government and social partners were reform of the educational system in general and of vocational training in particular. As regards the latter, the Government committed itself to: revising the law regulating the system; improving coordination among training organisations; introducing a credit system; and improving links between vocational training and the labour market by developing the system of in-company traineeships while strengthening the system of educational and vocational training for young people.
  • Ministerial document on education reform and the related bill. This document, subsequently converted into the bill currently being discussed by the Council of Ministers, takes up the recommendations set out by the Government and social partners in the Pact for Employment, and envisages closer integration between higher education - which in Italy consists almost solely of universities - and the vocational training system. The latter is traditionally regarded as providing alternative access to employment, compared with higher education, and equips those who choose this route only poorly. Accordingly, the document urges the creation of post-secondary, non-university training more closely geared to the requirements of the labour market.

Commentary

Although spending by the Regional Administrations on vocational training has been considerable, and has constantly increased since the end of the 1980s, the training shortfall that, according to CENSIS (Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali), afflicted the Italian economy in the early 1990s is still severe. Radical measures are required to reorganise the education and training system. The inefficiency of the system and the lack of coordination between vocational training and the labour market has fostered the prolonged indifference of the social partners to such matters.

The development of human resources is therefore often regulated by means of voluntarist and ad hoc initiatives taken by individual companies or by consortia. However, these joint or negotiated solutions have only been possible in the economically more dynamic areas, widening the rift between the North and South of the country.

The bipartite and tripartite agreements on renewal of the training system provide evidence that the social partners are changing their attitude. They now acknowledge the importance of human resources development in relaunching the economic and productive system. They recommend, moreover, that the social partners and public institutions should play a more active role in sustaining the country's economic development. Since the bipartite agreement of 1993, joint committees - comprising representatives from the employers' associations for the industrial, small firm and artisan sectors, and from the trade union confederations - have been set up, both nationally and regionally. The aims of these committees are to strengthen relationships with the Regional Administrations, to overhaul initial training schemes, to augment further training, and to implement the provisions of law 626 on workplace safety with specific regard to training. Since July 1997, training needs have been monitored in accordance with the project defined by the bipartite agreement of 1993. This project, coordinated at the national level by a joint Confindustria and confederal trade union committee, also seeks to promote better use of EU funds for vocational training, which in some Italian regions are markedly under-utilised. (Simonetta Carpo, Ires Lombardia)

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