John Cabot University is an oasis in the heart of Rome. Established in 1972, it is one of the most highly valued international settings in Italy. Over 1,000 students hailing from 70 different nations cross its doorstep each year to pursue courses in History of Art, International Affairs and Business Administration. You could say it is a starred-and-striped crown jewel attracting young talent from all over the world. And it is precisely this mission with which an Italian expert has been entrusted: Antonella Salvatore, Director of the Center for Career Services and author of the book Stressed or Lazy? Just Looking for a Job. Advice for the young and lost (published by Franco Angeli).
It is a lively 111-page text based on some concrete facts: Italy has the smallest percentage of graduates in Europe (23%, where the EU average is 30%), it comes 25th in terms of digitalisation, you need to scroll all the way down to 54 to find Italy in the “Corruption Perception Index” and, for 50% of the population, there is an average of 5.9 years between exiting education and entering the labour market (the highest figured ever recorded in the OECD area).
The word “crisis” is therefore rather apt. But it is not the case that excellence and opportunities are lacking. Salvatore herself is a living example: “Before taking on my current role at John Cabot University, I worked in retail and, specifically, in foreign markets. I came to JCU eight years ago. I wanted to bring my professional experience to the classroom, so I proposed an educational project to the University that would bring the academic and working worlds closer together. After the first courses in marketing, the position I currently hold opened up and it seemed an obvious choice to give it a try.” The new role brought new responsibilities and, above all, afforded her a privileged station from which to monitor the missing link between school and work. That missing link can be summed up in one word: culture.
Today’s youth in Italy has inherited a cultural context of thinking only in the short term, based on low susceptibility to risk.
“Today’s youth in Italy has inherited a cultural context of thinking only in the short term, based on low susceptibility to risk and a lacking propensity to get stuck in,” Salvatore affirms. The blame for such a culture can be assigned in many ways, but is grouped into three key areas: the individual, the family and the institutions. On any of these levels, shedding that culture represents an important rejection process.” Accomplishing this begins with a self-understanding process that, in this era of social networks, internet and fast and easy access to all sorts of information is paradoxically one of the most difficult things to do. The interview sessions she holds with young people looking for work are proof of this. When they are they asked what their own weaknesses are they are often left speechless or talk about a strength instead, something that only on the surface seems to be a weakness. And then there is the matter of CVs. Despite instructions and templates to help maximise effectiveness, the essential problems with CVs remain, leading to a clash between the skills listed and the skills a candidate actually possesses – especially with regard to soft skills. An example? Defining yourself as a person who pays close attention to detail but overlooking syntax and spelling errors in your “Education” section. In other words, and as Salvatore puts it in her book, “the people themselves seem to be at odds with the lives they live: it’s as if the people on these CVs aren’t real, as if they aren’t in control of their own lives.”
This gap is something that applies to everyone. The motto “you never stop learning” (especially about yourself) rings true. This is why Salvatore also blames the education system (according to the OECD, 35% of employed Italians work in fields that have nothing to do with the subjects they studied) and the professional one (which, for example, employs only 48.3% of women). And of course, as someone used to arranging 40 weekly workshops every year, she is proactive about this: “On 14th September we’ll be launching the ‘SME System’. This is an open conference for students, graduates, young professionals and SMEs. The aim is to show tomorrow’s workforce where their paths for growth and training lie and to direct them better towards making the right choices and advancing their own careers. We would also like for the Italian production sector to share its best B2B practices for implementing its own initiatives and creating new ones.”
Employees should be resources for their companies and prove, at the same time, that they merit such a description.
In other words, it is not enough just to send your employees on 30-hour English language courses or to the company’s safety meetings. Employees should be resources for their companies and prove, at the same time, that they merit such a description. Trouble makers are no good to anyone; problem solvers know that simply expecting (to get a job, to grow, to advance professionally and personally) “is not a strategy”.