Let’s take Pietro Leeman as an example. He is the chef at Joia, the first vegetarian restaurant in Europe to earn a Michelin star, and he began as an apprentice in a restaurant in Lugano. Or Pierluigi Bernasconi, the founder and CEO of Media Market, the chain that sells household appliances under the Media World brand: at the age of 17, he was an apprentice in a small heating systems company. Are these really old stories? Well, things like this still happen: Sandro Berni, manager and designer of Ask Cucina, joined the company at the age of 14 with an apprenticeship contract, went on to become a car salesman and then to the Design Academy. After that, he went back to the company and became its general manager. At Rolls-Royce, this is the normal path: 20% of senior managers at Rolls-Royce UK began their careers as apprentices in the company. In Italy, apprenticeships – especially professionalizing apprenticeships – were the employment contracts that allowed millions of young people entered the workforce. But today, is it relevant in our society? Here are seven reasons why people should be proud to become apprentices.
The apprenticeship contract is an open-ended employment contract for young people aged between 18 and 29 (even 17 year-olds can obtain one if that have a professional qualification), and it includes an initial training period. It is always accompanied by an Individual Training Plan: every apprentice gets his training by accompanying his tutor during his daily work, which can be inside or outside a company. Apprentices have all the social benefits and protection (wage, social security, maternity, illness, etc.) that other workers have, and their salary is determined by collective agreement, depending on the type of contract, the qualification to be achieved, and the job level: generally, the pay scale starts at 60% of the remuneration of skilled workers of the same level and can even equal the same salary. The period of apprenticeship lasts from six months to 3 years, and can be as long as 5 years for particular professional profiles in the artisan sector. Once the training period has been completed and the apprentice has obtained his or her qualification, there is a time window (the so-called withdrawal period) in which both the employer and the apprentice may decide to end their relationship: if there is no explicit termination, the employment relationship remains open-ended.
Apprenticeship Contracts: Numbers
In the first quarter of 2017, 69,726 apprenticeship contracts were activated, and in 2016 the annual total was 267,773. There are three types: first, to earn a qualification and get a professional diploma (intended for very young people, and the fulcrum of the new-born Dual System, which is going into the stabilisation phase after a year of testing); second, the professionalizing contract, for young people from ages 18 to 29, finalized towards learning a trade or earning a vocational qualification; third, the advanced training and research contract, for earning university qualifications and advanced training or to carry out the training required by professional orders. Of the apprenticeships activated during the first quarter of 2017, 97.5% were professionalizing contracts, and last year, 96% of the 257,641 contracts finalised were of that type. The historical series, according to the report titled XV Rapporto di Monitoraggio Apprendistato prepared by ISFOL (for the year 2013/2014, the last available), described a contract that covers almost equally males and females (women apprentices accounted for 44% of contracts) and concentrated mainly on the age group 18-24 (52% of contracts). One third of all apprentices work in the artisan sector.
During the first quarter of 2017, contracts for professionalizing apprenticeships rose by 33%
Maurizio Drezzadore is an advisor to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies. He commented: "In the first quarter of 2016, 50,790 professionalizing apprenticeships were finalised. In the first quarter of this year, there were 17,235 more than last year, an increase of 33%, which means that companies appreciate this tool considerably. In the future, I imagine a greater percentage growth than for the other two types of apprenticeship, for which strong incentives are available. Today, we have already registered a 40% increase for third level apprenticeships, compared to the previous year.” To understand the trend for professionalizing apprenticeships, "we must wait until we can understand which political choices will be made in the Stability Law about the changes in social security payments for young people: if payment cuts are along the lines of 3 to 4 thousand Euro, then apprenticeship contracts will remain advantageous. If they decide that entry level employment contracts will have small but permanent incentives – it’s just a thought – then the apprenticeship contract would have significant competitors.”
Artisan know-how is heart of Made in Italy
The true value of the apprenticeship contract is not in its economic convenience for the company. Instead, the contract is important for its training dimension. Susanna Nicola coordinates apprenticeship courses for CIOFS-FP in Casale Monferrato. Every year, around eighty young people take part in training programmes included in the contract: these apprentices are hairdressers, plumbers, and metalworkers, just to name a few professions. The professionalizing part of the training takes place in the company, while the training agency, on behalf of the company, tackles the cross-disciplinary modules, such as workplace safety. "When we speak to the kids about their rights and responsibilities as workers, and about their employer’s responsibilities, it opens up a new world for them. They are 22 or 23 years old, and often have a lower level school leaving certificate, and the issue of forming the person is crucial," said Nicola.
"The artisan sector and apprenticeships go together, as usual. An Italian artisan can talk about taxation, the environment, and sustainability, but if you talk to him about apprenticeship, his eyes light up – for better or for worse: he knows exactly what you mean. It’s a question of identity for Italian craftsmanship,” according to a firm statement from Stefano Di Niola, head of the Department of Labour Relations of the CNA-National Confederation of Crafts and Small and Medium Enterprises. One third of professionalizing apprenticeships are set up in the artisan sector. "Our exports, the concept of Made in Italy, do not consist of mass produced products, but of handmade products. Therefore, it is necessary that professional knowledge pass somehow from one generation to the next: this is the value of apprenticeship training. If an object is not mass produced, we will always need a person who can make it. Not a robot. For this reason, apprenticeship cannot disappear, not even in the era of industry 4.0."
Our exports are made up of hand made products, where professionalism is handed down from generation to generation
Di Niola is down-to-earth person, so he launches a provocation and a proposal: "Hiring an apprentice to put work on an assembly line reduces the qualitative aspect of apprenticeship training. Let’s stop with the pretences. An apprenticeship in a company with very few employees, that does a specific type of machining process, where the older worker stands next to the young employee to teach him how to do that particular process – now that is another thing altogether. We offer incentives for companies hiring young workers, linked to the age of the worker, for the artisan sector, we offer total exemption from social security payments for the three years of the apprenticeship contract. It would not be particularly expensive, for a few years now there has been a law establishing a 100% exemption from social security contributions for apprentices for very small companies.”
Apprentice in staff leasing, a double chance of success
A few years ago, with Legislative Decree 167/2011 (TUA), employment agencies began to stipulate apprenticeship contracts. Since 2012, Adecco has finalised over 1,300 contracts of this type, nearly half in the metalworking sector, a fourth in the commerce sector, and a few in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector, with large and small client companies: some workers have already finished their apprenticeships, and others are still carrying on. Soon, they will begin to make first and third level apprenticeship contracts as well, which is a new thing. "We have a legal constraint on the professionalizing apprenticeship contract, deriving from Decree 81/2015: the agency must confirm at least 20% of resources at the end of the period of apprenticeship. We are at 98%," said Carmela Gallo, spokesperson for Adecco for apprenticeship in staff leasing. In 60% of cases, the customer hires the worker, and in the remaining 40% of cases, the worker is confirmed by Adecco and continues to work for the same client that trained them. "Only a few apprentices were confirmed by us but were sent to work for another client. This happened because of staffing issues, and never for dissatisfaction with the worker’s experience. In any case, confirmation by the agency is a double chance for the worker," explained Gallo.
The law requires employment agencies to confirm at least 20% of the resources. We are at 98%.
National statistics on confirmation at the end of apprenticeship training do not exist, but looking at the ISFOL Report, which in 2011-2013 talked about 230,000 apprenticeship contracts finalised per year and 70,000 newly transferred in 2013, we could argue the national average stops before ours does, roughly at around 30%. "I believe that our figures can be explained with the accompanying work we do with our clients. It is necessary to locate the right projects to ensure that the students involved in the apprenticeships actually grow, and to invest heavily in a training plan, which is entirely organised by us: in this way, we create functional, valid professional figures. We have never seen apprenticeship merely as a cheaper contract, but as the best contract for our youngest workers, to create new professional expertise." And what advantages does the company have? "Objectively, this contract costs less, without detracting from the rights of workers. But apprenticeship means mainly a chance to train a worker in-house, with a "tailor made” programme, on a specific machine or software made entirely by that company. It also provides a way to design and accompany generational renewal."
To summarise: this is an open-ended contract that provides for all the worker’s rights and gives an opportunity to earn a professional qualification. In a staff-leasing context, there is the double possibility of being confirmed by the company or by the client. It is economically convenient for companies, ensures tailor made training, and helps facilitate generational renewal. It is the key to ensuring the long term success of “Made in Italy”. Here are the seven reasons why now is the time for Italy to stop snubbing apprenticeship contracts.