Italy's 'rigid' education system stifles job market

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Italians are more likely than other Europeans to leave school early. School photo: Shutterstock
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Italy's high youth unemployment rate is partly due to its rigid school system, an education expert told The Local on Friday, after a European Commission report said the country's schools lagged far behind other EU states.

Despite making “some progress” in the education system, Italy overall gets low marks in the latest report by the European Commission.

While pupils’ basic skills are in line with or above the EU average, Italy comes woefully far behind when it comes to adult’s level of education, the report said.

Just 22.4 percent of 30 to 34-year-olds have gone through tertiary education, the lowest figure in Europe and far behind the EU average of 36.9 percent. Adult literacy and numeracy skills in Italy were described as “very poor” by the Commission, when compared to other EU countries.

Italians are also more likely than other Europeans to leave school early, while across the board they have a hard time moving from education to the workplace.

The impact of this can be seen in the job market, where youth unemployment currently stands at 42.9 percent.

Hans-Peter Blossfeld, director of the EU-funded Education as a Lifelong Process (eduLIFE) project, told The Local such high unemployment is partly the result of Italy’s school system. 

“Southern European countries don’t have developed vocational training systems. People leave the education system and are outsiders of the labour market,” he explained. “They don’t have close networks and access to companies and firms; this makes it rather difficult.”

Those leaving education in Italy face a further barrier in trying to get jobs, because they are kept out of the rigid labour market.

“People who are in jobs have high job security and protection, but those leaving education, who want jobs, have difficulty moving into the system,” he said.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently trying to reform this inflexible system, making it easier for employers to hire and fire people, although he is facing strong opposition from labour unions.

The premier could seek inspiration from Germany, where youth unemployment is just 7.6 percent.

“In Germany they have a long tradition of a dual system, meaning young apprentices are trained in the workplace and in school.

“This creates a bridge from the general education system to the labour market,” Blossfeld said.

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Germany has a stronger economy than Italy, where education spending is much lower than the EU average, but Blossfeld said the problems should not be blamed on investment.

“I don’t think the financial crisis has such a huge impact. This is a structural problem so it is nothing new,” he added.

If Italy maintains its rigid education structure, Blossfeld warned people with a minimum level of education risk lifelong exclusion from the labour market.

“The same is true in Germany,” to some degree, he added. “If you don’t manage to get education and training before you enter the labour market, the probability you never make it is also high."

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