Contribution to EIRO thematic feature on Youth and work - case of Italy

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1. Regulatory Framework

Eurodesk, the information centre on youth policies in the EU member-states, defines young workers as aged more than 15 and less than 18. For the labour force surveys conducted by the Italian National Statistics Institute (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, Istat), instead, the age range comprising youth employment is between 15 and 24. Unless stated otherwise, it is the latter definition that is used here.

Table 1 sets out figures on employment in Italy of relevance to the discussion that follows.

A recurrent feature of statistics on the Italian labour market is the marked geographical differentiation that they reveal. The data on unemployment rates are a case in point: the national average is around 8%, but this comprises unemployment levels ranging from 4.5% in the northern regions of the country, through 6.5% in the central regions, to 15.1% in the Mezzogiorno.

It is interesting to compare youth unemployment in Italy and in the rest of Europe. As of February 2005, the unemployment rate among young people aged under 25 was 18.5% in the Eurozone and 18.8% in the EU-25 (compared with 18.0% and 18.8% in February 2004), with the lowest levels in Denmark (7.4% in January) and in Holland (7.4% in December 2004) and the highest ones in Poland (37.6%), Slovakia (28.8%), Greece (26.3% in September 2004) an in Italy (24.0% in December 2004).

Table 1. Main employment indicators in Italy
    All Male Female
2003 2004 2003 2004 2003 2004
Employment rate (% population aged 15-64) 56.1 57.6 69.6 70.1 42.7 45.2
Employment rate (% population aged 15-24) 25.2 27.6 29.7 32.1 20.6 23.1
Employment in Services (% total employment) 66.5 66.6 59 58 78.4 79.6
Employment in Industry (% total employment) 29.1 29 36 36.9 18.1 17
Employment in Agriculture (% total employment) 4.4 4.4 5 5.1 3.5 3.4
Activity rate (% population aged 15-64) 61.5 62.7 74.7 74.9 48.3 50.6
Activity rate (% of population aged 15-24) 34.6 36.1 39.2 40.5 29.9 31.7
Total unemployment (000) 2048 1960 936 925 1112 1036
Unemployment rate (% labour force 15+) 8.4 8 6.5 6.4 11.3 10.5
Youth unemployment rate (% labour force 15-24) 23.7 23.6 20.5 20.7 27.6 27.2
Long term unemployment rate (% labour force) 4.9 4 3.8 2.9 6.6 5.5
Youth unemployment ratio (% population aged 15-24) 9.4 8.5 9.5 8.4 9.2 8.6

Among policy measures targeted on the 15-to-18 age group is the recent reform of the school system (law 28 march 2003 no. 53, the so-called ‘Moratti Reform’) (IT0304106F) which has introduced compulsory training. The main aim is to extend compulsory schooling and training by redefining them as entitlements/obligations to education and training, and extending them for at least 12 years - or at any rate until award of a qualification by the eighteenth year of age. Since a procedural agreement signed in June 2003, the regional administrations have launched a variety of experimental vocational training schemes. Monitoring of these schemes has revealed a marked disparity between the regions of the Centre-North, which have built on already-existing networks and resources, and those of the South, where the network must be largely constructed from scratch.

In the case of young workers under the broader definition (aged 15 to 24), measures in their regard are set out in the National Action Plan for Employment.

In general, the national-level policy aims pursued in 2003-2004 were:

  • supporting positive labour-market trends;
  • raising the employment rate (still very low in the South);
  • facilitating labour-market entry by excluded groups (women, over-50s, young people in the South);
  • reducing job-search times.

In Italy, national structural policies are mainly based on the law reforming the labour market: the so-called ‘Biagi Law’ (IT0303103N) enacted by legislative decree no. 276 of 2003 for various purposes, some of which, as the next section shows, have impacted on youth employment.

2. National youth employment schemes

There are no national schemes in Italy specifically targeted on young people. The youth policy bodies of the Council of Europe and the Central European Initiative comprise the youth exchange sector of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which supports regions in regard to youth exchange schemes not included in EU agreements.

The measures set out by the Biagi Law with closest relevance to the youth labour market are: traineeships, the new apprenticeship system, and work-entry contracts.

The traineeship system has not been substantially changed: its main purpose is to give young people their first experience of the world of work, and its use has been extended.

The new apprenticeship system has three components: training, skilling and specializing.

The new apprenticeship system has introduced a number of innovations with regard to young workers. It links with the recent reform of the school system (law no. 53, 2003). The vocational qualification received on completion of an apprenticeship carries credits which can be used to receive further education and training.

There is a contradiction, however. Work before the age of 15 is prohibited by law in Italy, but apprenticeships may be taken up at the age of 14, when compulsory schooling concludes.

Reform of the labour market has introduced the work-entry contract (contratto di inserimento, CIL), discussion of which concludes this section. The work-entry contract has a training component, and it was introduced mainly to facilitate the labour-market entry (re-entry) of disadvantaged categories of workers. Its target groups are the following:

  • people aged between 18 and 29, and the long-term unemployed up to the age of 32;
  • the jobless for at least 2 years and aged over 50;
  • women of any aged resident in areas where the female unemployment rate is at least 20% less than the male rate, or where it is 10% higher;
  • the severely handicapped.

Whilst the previous version of the CIL - the work/training contract (contratto formazione e lavoro, CFL) - applied only to persons aged between 16 and 32, the new system is more extensive in its scope and includes workers to be reintegrated into the labour market besides young people as such. The CIL also differs from the CFL in that it does not provide for relief on social security contributions: 74% of the CILs registered in December 2004 concerned workers aged less than 29 not eligible for contributions relief (only 0.1% of them were women). Conversely, 20% were eligible for the maximum relief envisaged by the law (8% were women).

This is indicative of how in Italy policies targeted on young people in the strict sense do not differ from employment policies in the broader sense.

High Technical Education and Taining courses are among the measures to promote the work entry of young people.

3. Role and views of the social partners on Youth at work

The law reforming the labour market plays a central role among instruments intended to increase employment among young people.

The reform law was enacted by the present centre-right government, and while employers were the first to press for the flexibilization of the labour market, the trade-union confederations have frequently opposed the measures introduced. In fact, however, these measures have not been widely applied. Fixed-term contract, temporary-employment agency work, apprenticeships, and work-entry contracts are often cited as the causes of the recent slight fall in unemployment rates, although the trade-union confederations criticise the lack of social shock absorbers - especially to support workers during the period of inactivity between one temporary job to the next, which is frequently the situation of young people. In this regard, it is once again the regions which have taken the lead in innovation, for instance by constructing a network for the exchange of practices on forms of citizenship income.

At decentralized level, the social parties more frequently collaborate on local actions, which in many cases include employment among their economic development goals. Symptomatic of this trend is the proliferation of territorial pacts and other concerted initiatives at local level.

As regards collective bargaining, more and more national collective agreements refer bargaining to the decentralized territorial and company levels. The social partners and collective bargaining play a key role in the application of the new types of contract.

At the moment, it is difficult to gauge the impact of these measures, given their recent introduction. However, preliminary data show that the instrument most widely included in renewals of national collective agreements is staff leasing, an arrangement which continues in the direction already marked out by temporary agency work and project work. New instruments like jobs on call and job sharing are used to only a very limited extent, while staff leasing is beginning to spread in certain areas (general services, information technology, consultancy). There are no specific measures regarding young people, except for a general tendency by the unions to bargain on the stabilization of atypical contracts, which often involve young people.

4. Discussions and research

Discussion and research on policies specifically targeted on young people take place mainly at local level. It is often the local administrations that conduct surveys on the habits, tendencies, and working conditions of young people.

5. Commentary

The main initiatives concerning youth employment have been reform of the school system in order to facilitate the transition between training and work, and the law reforming the labour market. One gains the impression, however, that in the former case it is the regional administrations that determine its success - but with the risk of falling short of national goals, on the one hand, and of encouraging dumping among regions on the other.

As regards reform of the labour market, the various types of contract introduced apply to workers of all ages. This is symptomatic of the urgency of the unemployment problem, but also of the secondary concern shown for specific categories of the unemployed. (Manuela Galetto, Ires Lombardia)


Eurostat -- Regional unemployment in the European Union and candidate countries in 2004-Periodico “Statistics in focus”

ISFOL - Il contratto di inserimento. Una nuova opportunità per l’ingresso nel mercato del lavoro, a cura di Mario Emanuele - Collana “Monografie sul mercato del lavoro e le politiche per l’impiego”, n. 8/2005

ISFOL - Le politiche per l’occupabilità: valutazione della loro efficacia attraverso un’analisi sui giovani in cerca di lavoro che hanno partecipato a piani di inserimento professionale o a tirocini, di Stefania Rossetti e Alessandro Solipaca, a cura di Carmen Serra - Collana “Monografie sul mercato del lavoro e le politiche per l’impiego”, n. 7/2002

ISFOL - I sistemi regionali per l’obbligo formativo- documentazione disponibile sul sito

Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali (MLPS), Aggiornamento del quadro informativo sulle politiche del lavoro, 21 giugno 2005-10-27

Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali (MLPS), Piano d’azione nazionale per l’occupazione 2004,,,,,,,,,

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