The world of work has been constantly evolving, even predating the pandemic, yet the virus has accelerated some existing processes, created new ones, and also spurred on sectoral shifts, particularly in those most affected by the consequences of the regulations to contain COVID-19. We sat down with Francesco Armillei, research assistant at the London School of Economics and member of the think-tank Tortuga.
I would start with a question that is perhaps more sociological and philosophical than strictly economic: will the world of work have a clear before and after in this pandemic?
The answer is yes, but with some clarifications: there is a difference between occupational sector and profession: while often assimilated, they do not overlap. Those who ‘change’ professions mostly stay in the same sector, even in this pandemic era. Unlike the situation in the United States, where the culture is different, reinventing oneself is not so easy in Italy. Certainly, the increased number of resignations also in our country is an interesting aspect to be studied in the medium to long term, but no significant paradigm shift in the world of work has yet been reported.
In what way?
We can imagine that the pandemic has made some professions more in demand than others. For example, jobs involving direct contact with co-workers and the public have declined. In contrast, technology-related professions or jobs that are easily done remotely via teleworking and smart working have gained ground. For this reason, shifts in the labour market should also be monitored from the perspective of professions.
Is it fair to say that some professions have ‘gained’ and others ‘lost’ as a result of the pandemic?
Absolutely not, and the data tell us so: the numbers shown by a sample of Compulsory Notifications provided for research purposes by the Ministry of Labour say that the change between 2019 and 2020 in the number of activations for each profession marks an overall collapse in the first half of the first pandemic year from 3.3 million in 2019 to 2.4 million. On the other hand, the number of health specialists recruited has increased significantly. The same was true for domestic staff such as domestic helpers, caretakers and other health professions. Workers in tourism-related accommodation and catering, skilled workers and craftsmen paid the highest price. The picture in the second half of 2020 is very similar: Health professions have grown in contrast to the dwindling manpower in the aforementioned professions, matching job losses in commerce and the arts.
Let’s try to understand at this point whether the workers are redeploying, and if so, from which sector to which they are moving…
We always let the data speak first: the percentage of newly-hired workers in Italy between March and April 2020, then between October and December and between February and March 2021, whose occupation differed from their previous one increased by between 5 and 7% compared to previous years. Since the onset of the pandemic in terms of reallocation, new entrants have been coming from the construction industry, especially from the energy industry. However, the flows of people moving from mining to trade, from real estate to transport and storage have slowed down. In contrast, we can almost speak of a ‘flight’ from the ‘energy’ and ‘transport’ sectors. A final point I would like to highlight is that in the second half of 2020, inflows into the education sector increased, while outflows from the public administration and arts sectors increased.
The pandemic has driven the digital transition, an ecological transition is underway, then there are the bonuses that have brought a ‘de facto transition’ to the construction world: they are paths not caused, but certainly driven by the pandemic. Are there, however, if not sectors, professions that are radically changing by attracting and ‘stealing’ professionals?
The numbers reveal two trends: the first, in 2020, compared to 2019, sees an increase in inflows into professions, particularly unskilled ones, of those who were previously ‘counted’ as artisans and skilled workers, plant operators, those who exercised executive professions in office work and skilled professions in trade and services: there is therefore a kind of reallocation from more to less skilled professions. Secondly, flows into skilled trades and services professions are decreasing (also consistent with the sector analysis), especially of entrepreneurs and senior managers, and of those who exercised executive professions in office work and technical professions.
What do you think is still to be understood in the post-pandemic world of work that we have not yet grasped?
With vaccines in circulation, the most acute phase, which found us unprepared from a health, but also economic and social point of view, seems to be behind us. Some effects are bound to leave a permanent mark on the labour market in Italy. As regards the transition from one profession to another or from one sector to another, much remains to be understood. The main changes in flows that we have described seem to be related to the waves, especially the first two between 2020 and early 2021, and government-imposed restrictions. However, we have seen that even with the release of redundancies not much has changed in the world of work. Figures for the entire year 2021 will help us to get a clearer picture as soon as they become available. This will be the real challenge: interpreting economic, social and pandemic events with a view to building policies capable of accompanying, if not guiding, the changes underway, guaranteeing higher levels of well-being and protection of the rights of those who work and those entering the world of work in recent years.