The implications of the pandemic on the world of work have been acutely visible since early 2020. Not unlike so many other sectors, the economy has seen an acceleration in many long-standing trends. The digital transition and the transition to environmental sustainability were already a reality when the number of infections first rose, but in the last two years they have become a greater necessity, one that can no longer be postponed.
The rapidly changing world of work reveals the importance, at this stage, of investing in training and further education. The government has thus developed the New Skills Plan, set to reshape and enhance worker training in Italy: the measure has the dual objective of reorganising the upskilling of workers in transition and the unemployed by strengthening the vocational training system, and defining essential quality levels for upskilling and reskilling activities.
The Plan falls within the framework of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan and contributes to the completion of Mission 5 ‘Inclusion and Cohesion’. On 10 December, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies signed the Decree adopting the Plan, which was then forwarded to the Ministry of the Economy for countersignature. Altogether, the government is ready to put up 7.2 billion for active labour policies and create that long-needed bridge between training and work.
The Plan in numbers
According to estimates released by the government, the New Skills Plan is expected to involve about 800,000 workers in the immediate future, 300,000 of whom will be involved in strengthening digital skills alone. The Plan identifies more than half of the adult working-age population in Italy as “potentially in need of retraining”.
In our country, there are more than 55% of people aged 16–74 who lack basic digital skills, compared to a European average of around 44%. While the elderly certainly makes up a very high percentage, lagging education levels are also to blame.
This second factor, as noted by the government in its document, has an impact not only on employment prospects or career advancement, but “the exercise of civic participation and active citizenship, even access to basic services such as education, training or the use of social and health protection are also seriously affected”.
There is also a quirk among workers in Italy that could pose a difficult hurdle to overcome: those who participate more in training programmes are workers with more years of education behind them and in higher skilled jobs. By contrast, lower-skilled workers over the age of 45 are generally less likely to be involved in training activities, making it increasingly difficult for them to enter or re-enter the labour market.
On a broader scale, the whole New Skills Plan should also involve young people who are not studying, training or working (NEET), a group tallying 2.1 million in Italy and growing over the last 24 months. In addition, there are plans to help the unemployed and beneficiaries of forms of support (such as citizenship income) return to the labour market.
Rome is harnessing the new plan to outline a wide-ranging reform of the whole chapter of active policies and vocational training. Resting on three pillars.
The first is the Worker Employability Guarantee (Gol) programme, covering the same five-year horizon as the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (2021–2025).
The Gol programme is the real lynchpin of the active labour market policy reform. It contemplates five different activation pathways and targets at least 3 million beneficiaries to be reached by the end of the five-year period. Women, the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, citizenship income recipients, under-30 and over-55 workers should make up 75% of the target group.
The full gambit of resources amount to €4.4 billion, plus €600 million to bolster job centres (400 already in operation plus an additional 200) and €600 million to shore up the dual system.
The second pillar is the Dual System investment programme, which fosters upskilling of young people between 15 and 25 years of age, pushing for school-to-work pathways and dual apprenticeship contracts to link education and training systems with the labour market.
By 2025, the aim is to have at least 135,000 more young people engaged in pathways that combine classroom teaching and training, also making the most of tools such as apprenticeships.
The overall goal is to reduce the mismatch between skills required by the labour market and the training programmes in education and training systems.
Last but not least, the New Skills Fund, established on an experimental basis in 2020 and confirmed in the Budget Act. This fund, financed with the cash coming from React Eu, was created to counter the effects of the pandemic on the economy more directly. Companies that have concluded agreements providing for the rescheduling of working time can adjust workers’ skills by allocating part of their working time to training. However, the State bears the costs of the training hours, including social security contributions, instead of the companies.