As Minister of Labour for a little over three years now, Giuliano Poletti is preparing for his final lap (the term will depend on the date of the elections). Although Italy is in a phase of slight economic growth (GDP rising +0.2% in the first quarter of the year), it continues to struggle on the job front. In fact, although ISTAT numbers show, between January and March, 24 thousand more people employed in the under-25 age group (and 42 thousand more than the same month the previous year), we are still in fifth place among EU countries with the highest unemployment rates. And we come in third from last in terms of youth unemployment.
Minister, could you give us an overview of the actions that have been implemented, and the results they have produced?
Fostering a more decisive increase in employment, and in particular youth employment, remains a priority for the Government. But there is a necessary precondition: employment is not created with laws; it grows if the economy grows. With the labour market reform, which became fully operative beginning in March 2015, and with the tax relief for open-term hiring, we wanted to jump-start the labour market and enable it to best grasp the opportunities connected with the economy’s recovery. We accompanied this with the commitment to develop an effective system of active job policies. During the years of the crisis, we lost 900 thousand jobs. Now, the medium/long-term trends are looking up. March 2017 recorded 213 thousand more employed than the year before. And, compared with three years ago, 734 thousand more, 553 thousand of whom steadily employed. As for young people, the most recent data show continued decline in the unemployment rate – which at 34.1% (9.2 percentage points less than three years ago) is at its lowest since February 2012 – and a growing employment rate, rising to 17.2%, its highest since November 2012.
So are you satisfied?
There’s a lot left to do. The measures to give more flexibility to the pension system may bring a positive effect due to the entry of young people into the labour market. Moreover, specific measures went into effect this year. I recall the bonus for hiring young people enrolled in the Garanzia Giovani programme, with its € 200 million endowment. To date, more than 29 thousand applications have been submitted, almost 19 thousand of which already handled. We have also launched tax relief for the hiring of young unemployed people in Southern Italy, using € 530 million in European funds. Lastly, there’s the 2017-2018 tax exemption, financed with € 274 million, for hiring young people when they have concluded their term of dual apprenticeship or of mandatory work/school alternation. Our commitment is ongoing, and we wish to do more with the 2018 budget law.
Do you think you have made any mistakes so far?
I can say that my whole life has been inspired by the goal of improving our country’s overall employment condition. I have made choices about which I was, and am, confident, and I have ensured the maximum possible commitment. I leave it to others to judge whether I have made mistakes.
What are the sectors on which a young person today should focus?
The growth of supplementary forms of welfare. This growth is connected with demographic and social dynamics, and, sustained by the facilitation interventions implemented to foster their introduction with business and business contracts and territorial pacts, it is sure to produce new employment. Notwithstanding the central importance of manufacturing, which can create and spread innovation, I think other sectors of potential growth are those connected with capitalizing on Italian-made excellence, alongside tourism and culture. However, there’s an underlying fact I would like to mention. Young people need to acquire the digital skills increasingly required by the spread of innovation, in order to overcome that gap which, in 2020, will yield result in at least 500 thousand jobs uncovered in ICT. We, as the Ministry of Labour, wish to make our contribution with a few, preliminary projects. Just to provide an example, starting with the Garanzia Giovani programme, we carried out, thanks to our partnership with Google and Unioncamere, the Crescere in Digitale project, which focuses on increasing NEETs’ skills in order to turn them into “digital evangelists” in our small- and medium-sized enterprises. A few data bear witness to the initiative’s success: more than 97 thousand youths in training, more than 5,800 enterprises involved, and more than 8 thousand available internships. So far, we have already gotten about 1,400 interns started: 500 have just finished their internships, and about circa 30% of them started work right away.
A few weeks ago, you announced a forum on how work is changing. What’s that about?
It’s a website, www.lavorochecambia.lavoro.gov.it, that we provide for everyone – citizens, organizations, and associations, social parties, and institutions – that, starting from the documentation published there and using a dedicated “forum” area, wishes to make a contribution, express an assessment, and raise ideas on the issue of how work is changing in response to the growing spread of automation and digitization in society and in productive processes. It is an initiative in line with the reflection embarked upon by the ILO on the occasion of its centennial, and with a view to the upcoming G7 to be held in Italy, dedicated to the relationship between “Science, technology and work.” The goal is to outline a picture of work that is changing, with particular attention to the impact produced by the technological transformation, by assessing on the one hand the great opportunities this transformation offers, and on the other the challenge it raises in terms of social sustainability. This transformation is not neutral, but impacts all aspects of the life of our communities, from labour to welfare and to social relations. We are not aiming to define contingent regulatory solutions, but to create – through a shared elaboration of ideas and proposals – a framework of reference for a farsighted strategy that helps govern change while foreseeing its distortions and seizing its opportunities.
Garanzia giovani: Three years after its start, more than 1.3 million young people have declared their interest in registering on the specially created site. Almost one million have been contacted and "handled" by employment services or private agencies. Five hundred thousand young people have been involved in active job policy measures. Of them, 319 thousand have completed the first phase of work integration, and 136 thousand are employed. About one tenth of the contacts have been initiated. Is this a satisfactory result?
I really think so. First of all, for the very high number of young people that have registered and continue to register with the Programme. Secondly, for the reaction and “welcoming” capacity shown by employment centres throughout Italy. This capacity was not at all taken for granted, given that our country had never faced a national project of active policies on this scale. The results are on the whole good as well, and constantly improving. This is demonstrated by the data on the number of young people that found work upon the conclusion of the employment strengthening measures proposed by the Plan. The figure of 136 thousand employed as of 31 December 2016 refers to those employed on that date having already concluded a measure among those provided for by the Programme, and is thus rightly set in relation to the total number (319 thousand) of those in this situation: the proportion is 42.6%.
Young people need to acquire the digital skills increasingly required by the spread of innovation, in order to overcome that gap which, in 2020, will yield result in at least 500 thousand jobs uncovered in ICT
The programme will soon be refinanced and, in addition to the € 1.3 billion already invested, more than € 800 million is expected to be invested between European and national resources. With so massive a turnout of young people, the risk is run that in the new phase as well, there might be an offer of measures that bring disappointment over weak and low-quality work integration proposals. How can this risk be avoided? Is it possible to think of greater customization of the work integration paths?
I would like first to point out that the refinancing of Garanzia Giovani is a battle won by Italy in the EU setting. Our country has in fact been constantly on the front line in urging refinancing and, in agreement with the EU Commission, it decided to direct towards this Programme a considerable portion of the resources derived from the technical adjustment of the EU budget. As for the new phase of Garanzia Giovani, already at the end of last year we shored up the measures dedicated to supporting direct employment, by strengthening the allocations and the size of the employment bonus. The result is that hires financed by the Programme almost doubled, on a monthly basis, in comparison with the months prior to the new formulation of the employment bonus. And “SelfiEmployment” – a project dedicated to promoting and sustaining self-employment, which was the last activated under the Programme – is also starting to show good results.
In any case, Garanzia Giovani remains the only active job policy implemented by our country. What other instruments may be imagined in this regard? What roles do you see for the new public employment centres, and for the private employment agencies?
Actually, Garanzia Giovani is not the only active job policy. With the full operation of ANPAL, Agenzia Nazionale per le Politiche Attive (National Agency for Active Policies) established by the Jobs Act, the re-employment allowance – the national instrument designed to promote the re-employment of persons in situations of involuntary unemployment – began trialling. The re-employment allowance can be spent at the employment centres and at the private agencies, which will make themselves available for assistance in job seeking. I might also add that the tax relief for new, open-term contracts, begun in the years 2015 and 2016, was an important active job policy measure, giving new impetus to this type of contract essential for workers and businesses alike. Moreover, the data tell us that tax relief brought a proportionally stronger benefit to contracts activated with women and young people.