Italy: Land of opportunity?

Italian Brain Drain

When we think of Italy, the mind conjures up images of sunshine, beaches, rolling hills, great food and wine. Italy is all of these things, but it has a dark side and I'm not talking about the Godfather!

Italy has been suffering from a mass exodus of its talented young people for over 20 years. In that time half a million Italians aged between 18-39 have left for other European countries. Youth unemployment stands at just under 38%. One of the highest rates in the EU.*


Papa' Prada and I want to return to Italy, but this is something we consider a great deal as we will be raising children in a place which might not offer them the best opportunities.

This 'Brain drain' is a major concern for Italy's leaders. How do you help a country prosper when its future depends on a generation who are moving elsewhere. Italy has many political and financial struggles to overcome which I won't go into here.

However I spoke with one of these young talented Italians, who felt the need to leave.

Loris Fedrigo, is now living and working in Dusseldorf. I asked him about what drove him to leave, how the job application process works in Italy and how much support young people receive when looking for employment.

  • Loris tell us what is the process for finding a job when you leave university in Italy? Do you apply, hopefully become employed and start being paid a salary right away?

Italy, unlike other European countries, offers limited support to youngsters looking for first employment opportunities. Usually, the first proper work experience is gained after graduation. Summer internships while studying are not the norm but rather, an exception. Furthermore, if underage, regular 'stage'/internships are not allowed or accepted by many businesses.

However, as first step, you can contact the career support offices of the University. Usually, universities have links with businesses looking for new graduates. Job opportunities often are posted on University intranets.

Alternatively, you are supposed to go through dedicated job portals or corporate career portals and apply there. Rarely, you are offered a contract for a permanent role straight away.

  • So how long can the 'stage' phase go on for? Do you eventually get taken on permanently by your employer?

Stage periods often depend on the company size and policies. Usually, big corporations offer 6 months internships with a later option for of a full time regular contract of usually 4 years (apprenticeship contract).

Permanent contract offers are more and more rare and are usually offered after many years at the company. There is however a legal limit for a company, in the extension of non-permanent employment contracts.

So to avoid reaching the legal limit, often companies employ people on a 'stage' and decide not to sign a contract extension but rather focus on hiring another 'stage' graduate. They keep doing this as it's cheaper to hire someone on a stage rather than take someone on permanently. The amount you are paid on a stage is very low, not enough to support yourself on long term.

  •  How do young people survive on such little pay? Is this why so many Italians still live at home with their parents?

Well, this is for sure a problem. And yes, many Italians decide to stay at home because on your own you cannot hope to be financially independent. As an alternative, many decide to leave the country, as I did.

  • Do you and your peers feel there is opportunity in Italy to get a good job and progress? Can you be ambitious and realise your dreams?

I always believe that with the right attitude and skills you can find a way to a satisfying job and career path. For sure, it is not easy anywhere, but in Italy in particular it is hard.

Also, you often hear about complaints where people have tried to progress and have been blocked and slowed down by the Italian norm of favoring the ones with connections rather than the ones with merit. This is a big issue in Italy, finding a job can be about who you know.

  • We've heard about something called the 'Brain drain' where thousands of talented, young Italians have been leaving the country looking for work abroad. Do you see this happening?

Yes, I think this is an ever increasing phenomenon. It's interesting but worrying that more and more are leaving. Many of my friends left too.

Recently, also for less academic jobs, I have noticed a trend for professionals leaving the country as they can seek higher paid jobs abroad. Barmen, servers, you name it, are all moving to countries like Australia, Germany, the UK.

  • What support do you think young people should be given in order to find opportunities within Italy?

On one hand I think it is a systemic problem that cannot be solved easily. On the other, it is also a cultural issue that needs to be addressed.

I think what would be essential is that young people are given the opportunity or are obliged to take part in an intership within a business as part of their university course. I have seen this in Germany and it works!

  • What needs to change with the actual employers?

Current employers should be given more incentives when hiring new graduates, such as tax benefits. Employers should also realize that internships are a means to an end; that is hiring good candidates. They cannot just exploit candidates, one after the other and fill positions with continuous short term assignments. It follows that a mindset change towards hiring practices is required.

  • You've lived in Germany, the USA, Italy and spent a lot of time in the UK. Which country do you think is the most mobile and open to young people bettering themselves?

 It is hard to say. I think USA is the most empowering for young people that are entrepreneurial; on the contrary it is not that open to foreigners that want to build a long term/permanent stay into the country (especially lately).

Germany is great, in regards to work opportunities and people development. The biggest hurdle is the language barrier since many employers still want to hire native or almost native speakers.

UK is somehow a hybrid; I deem it to be the best place to start of a carrer. I had the feeling that is it a very mobile country with lots of opportunities. As negatives, I believe it to be not as "safe" as Germany or other Nordic countries, in regards to job stability.

  • Do you think you will go back to live and work in Italy at some point?

To be honest, I am not sure. Italy will always be my real home. I don't think I will ever go back to work for somebody else but I don't exclude the possibility to live there once again, maybe as a small business owner.

Italy, has many drawbacks, but afterall is a great place to live.

If it can become competitive, many young people would not choose to leave their country.

  • On a positive note, what does Italy have to offer that no one else can compete with?

Aside good food and sun? :-) Great people and top notch specialty knowledge in industries such as fashion and design.

*Credits:  World Economic Forum: 'How can Italy reverse its brain drain?' Author: Paola Subacchi. Friday 1 April 2016.
Trading Economics: Italy Youth Unemployment Rate.