How finding paid employment in Italy has been worsened by lockdown.
Out of 203 thousand new graduates interviewed by inter-university consortium AlmaLaurea in 2019, less than half of them had found paid jobs one year after graduation.
More recently, the challenges that new graduates face in finding paid employment have been worsened by lockdown, where 3,7 million people lost their jobs as a consequence of the Italian economy almost completely shutting down for over two months.
Combine this with a deceptively fast-changing economic landscape that is rapidly integrating digital technologies to perform many of our routine work tasks — and we might conclude that this is almost a recipe for disaster. Indeed, how can new graduates find work in this kind of economic climate?
Certainly, a lack of more traditional career opportunities and fewer permanent contracts handed out overall has also contributed directly to this apparent impasse, which makes it increasingly difficult for new graduates to find jobs in their related field of study. A hunt which, for fresh degree holders, feels more like a quest for the holy grail than the relatively speaking more comfortable job search process most of their parents enjoyed.
Seismic changes are taking place
However, there are also good reasons why new graduates struggle to get a job in these days of constant change. Firstly, many young students’ expectations are, broadly speaking, not yet in alignment with the rapidly-evolving economic landscape. Secondly, it seems that the Italian society at large has still not fully woken up to its responsibility as a developed, industrialized nation to guide, inform, educate and inspire youth towards the types of jobs and careers that actually exist today.
What many people don’t realize is that seismic changes are taking place in several fields — law, science, the food industry, architecture and engineering, medicine, and education — and our traditional ways of doing jobs within these fields are swiftly disappearing.
Compared to the past, new graduates need to be much more self-directed
This means that fewer people need to be aiming for traditional office jobs, for example, compared to 10 years ago. There are signs that this is already happening. Careers in law, once one of the most popular choices for young people, are declining. Between 2006 and 2018 there was a 38% drop in students applying for law degrees.
Now, law grads need to be multifaceted in terms of soft skills, languages, and the types of contracts they will accept so they need to be much more self-directed compared to the past. A past where memorizing the statute books and studying a continuous stream of updated codes was the norm. Today algorithms can do that faster than you. This is convenient because algorithms don’t take holidays or maternity leave or even go off for coffee breaks.
Digital technologies are having a major impact on the way we work
This means that students’ current focus needs to change. Translators and interpreters may soon be a thing of the past. This requires a re-focus on the emerging working world that is increasingly dependent on digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data.
Data scientists, engineers, analysts, managers, architects, recruiters are all currently in demand. One quick look at the job vacancies on employment-oriented platforms like Linkedin, Glassdoor and Indeed shows that soft skills such as problem solving, intercultural and virtual communications, the ability to self-manage, a high competency in foreign languages and work experience in a related field are as much a basic requirement as a Master’s degree itself these days.
Spoken fluency in English is just the start
Jobs that boast the best salaries require graduates to demonstrate written and spoken fluency in English just to get started. For instance, global engineering firm AECOM, a company that is operative in 150 countries, is currently employing graduates in Milan into its Construction and Environment business units but requires fluency in written and spoken English. The job description on Linkedin is written in English and even lists English before Italian as one of its minimum requirements.
So, to get jobs like this many Italian students must be prepared to question every assumption they have ever had about the workplace.
Work experience and languages are fundamental
Students must enter university with the understanding that they can’t simply come out of those doors, three or five years later just with a piece of paper in their hand. As well as working towards their academic credentials, they also need to be spending those years getting valuable work experience and building proficiency in languages that will help them to not only prepare for entering in a field of their choice but will also give them the behavioral and communication skills that many Human Resources managers in Italy lament are sorely lacking in young people today.
Employers of international organizations that are based on Italian soil need new graduates to be ready to hit the ground running, and may choose a suitable candidate from another country (we’re working remotely now) because they’ve been working in the field as well as working towards their degrees.
Experience might just get you a job before you’re qualified
Experience in your desired profession, being able to engage effectively and professionally with others in the workplace, and proficiency in languages, with English being a given, are nothing less than a priority for organizations.
However, I was also recently told by a senior manager at an American financial asset management company operating in Italy, that solid experience with financial instruments, gained in your spare time, can even make you a more attractive choice compared to someone with just the paper qualification.
Building skills starts at university
Despite the odds stacked against new graduates in Italy, there is hope of them finding paid work if they resolve to adopt a new can-do attitude while at university. They must think of new innovative ways to gain work experience and practice foreign languages in real contexts.
For example, they can proactively set up their own informal societies or consulting groups where they will collaborate in sharing ideas and keeping up to date with emerging trends in their field. They can set up Linkedin profiles and actively start building a professional network by engaging with people from around the globe. They can also sign up for short, free courses with online learning platforms such as FutureLearn or Coursera. These are taught in English by internationally renown professors from universities such as Stanford and Harvard.
You can learn soft skills such as problem-solving, how to deal with conflict and intercultural communications. You can also learn about cutting edge ideas, tactics, challenges and trends that are disrupting our workplaces. All these experiences can slot nicely into your curriculum and will make you stand out from a sea of applications when applying for jobs.
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