Italy’s ‘rigid’ education system stifles job market

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.

Italy's 'rigid' education system stifles job market
Italians are more likely than other Europeans to leave school early. School photo: Shutterstock

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.

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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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.