Established in 2008, the galaxy of Higher Technological Education Institutes (ITS) includes 93 planets. All of them different. From tourism to mobility, fashion, winemaking, mechanics and agriculture. Not to mention the great solar system that rotates around the use and programming of software. A fully-fledged universe spilt across six technology macro-areas, some of which are still waiting to be discovered. The figures are increasingly encouraging, with an average of 79% of school-leavers finding work within a year, and the Ministry of Education having allocated funds of 50 million Euro over three years.
But what exactly are Higher Technological Education Institutes? They are Italy’s first form of vocational training, and draw inspiration from other countries’ well-established practices. Their aim is to train expert technicians, in strategic areas for the economic development and competitiveness of the entire country, through close collaborations between the worlds of education and labour. The courses, based on a class of 20-25 students, last either two or three years, for a total of 1800/2000 hours. 30% of these hours are covered by a compulsory internship within a company. To enter such institutes, candidates in possession of a high school leaving diploma (as well as lecturers wishing to teach in these institutes, 50% of which come from the business world) must pass a strict exam comprising a section on general culture, a technical section, and a motivational interview. Students who complete the course are entitled to the qualification of Senior Technician, corresponding to level 5 of the European Qualifications Framework. But what counts most is that this qualification gets their foot in the door of the world of work.
In this regard, the institute plays a major role: “The ITS are based on partnerships between various public and private stakeholders, aimed at building a network of interests and investments, also of a symbolic nature, such as to make the most of local resources and of the synergies created between the various entities involved,” explains Antonella Zuccaro, an Indire researcher specialised in the field of ITS. “Over time, however, this system has revealed a number of bureaucratic and entrepreneurial limitations. For this reason,” says Ms Zuccaro, “we have set up a round table, supported by a scientific and technical committee, that analyses experiences bottom-up with a view to developing what is still a very young educational system”. In other words, there are still plenty of problems to be ironed out. The first relates to the number of students: Italy has recently reached the figure of 10,000 students – a far cry from the rest of Europe and, above all, from the number of university enrolments. The second problem relates to the natural evolution of the professional figures on which these institutes’ training is based: a decade on, these professional figures of reference would need to be updated. This is the reason behind the experimentation involving six ITS in an Industry 4.0 perspective: “Many businesses still do not understand the potential impact of Industry 4.0 on their sector, and would benefit from being able to liaise with those who develop the skills of future production technicians,” concludes Mr Zuccaro.
The employment rate among ITS students exceeds 80%. This is mainly due to the climate of close collaboration between such institutes and local companies.
Turin’s Its-Ict Piemonte is one of the most active institutes, and offers three different specialisations: “backend development”, “web and mobile design”, and “interaction and visual design”. “Our aim is to increase the employment opportunities for our students,” says Andrea Goia, Professor of IoT. The employment rate among ITS students exceeds 80%. This is mainly due to the climate of close collaboration between such institutes and local companies. “We are in close contact with companies operating in Piedmont, modulating our training based on their needs. The scientific committee”, says Mr Goia, “strives for the greatest possible flexibility in evolving the various subjects taught and, if necessary, integrating existing subjects based on the latest professional requirements”. Mr Goia’s own course is a case in point: “At the start, 30 hours were allocated to the Internet of thing, but then things changed. Instead of physical computing, we added 3D modelling and project management, bringing the course to a total of 50 hours and thus meeting the needs of companies, which require new recruits to be increasingly specialised and capable of working independently on any project entrusted during an internship or at the start of the employment relationship.” These courses are generally held in cutting-edge facilities. The Turin ITS has five computer labs with Windows operating system, one with Mac Os, a classroom for lectures, a cinema hall with Dolby surround sound, audio-visual equipment, software for programming apps and audiovisual products, IoT design instruments, virtual machines and much more besides (including a canteen, a conference and events room, a library and other common rooms in which students and lecturers can network).
And yet, such advanced institutes are struggling to take off. Some believe that the problem lies in the name, which is too reminiscent of Italy’s Istituto Tecnico, or technical institute – proposing that the name be changed to “Academy”. Others feel that the ITS are not sufficiently promoted. Or that the ongoing perception is that university degrees are socially more acceptable. All this goes against the perception of Italy as a country rooted in craftsmanship, with small workshops and apprenticeships fuelling its business world and its economy in general. “The world looks to us because of our leadership in this area. Now we must make up for lost time, especially in terms of legislation, and promote the idea of a country that can make it,” says Mr Goia.