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Young Italians wrestle a job market that favours old, unfireable

The jobless rate for young Italians is now 35%. Some are starting companies, some swallowing their pride and taking jobs they hate — and some are turning to suicide, writes Josephine McKenna from Rome.

Filippo Maria Capitanio is something of a rarity in Italy. He is young and employed. Not only that, he is an entrepreneur with big ideas and he is only 26.

As the economic crisis deepens across Europe, Italy’s unemployment rate is now close to 11% but the jobless rate among those aged between 14 and 25 has just hit 35.1%, according to the latest government figures. There are now 2.8 million Italians out of work and at least one in three young Italians is jobless.

Many young people are fleeing the country and heading to Germany, the US or the UK for work and there is growing concern about the impact of the “brain drain” on the country’s future.

But Capitanio has decided to stay — at least for now — and he has created his own company in Rome with little financial support from his family. He recently established a computer and website consultancy which has already generated contracts with a variety of firms, government bodies and even a university.

Looking for new opportunities, the young businessman has also created a professional association of young jewellers with nearly 100 members and they plan to sell their products to China, Brazil and Russia.

I think the crisis is changing our concept of work and life,” Capitanio told Crikey. “There are young people who have adapted to the new model positively, but many young Italians need to really change their attitude.”

Capitanio said many of his friends complain about how unhappy they are about their prospects but don’t do anything about it. When he asked one unemployed friend if he wanted to earn 100 euros handing out leaflets to promote the association, he refused.

I think the secret is not to focus too much on the work you want but to open your mind up to the opportunities that often take you in directions you never even imagined,” Capitanio said.

Italy’s Labour Minister Elsa Fornero recently provoked a storm of protest after she told students to stop being so “choosy” when looking for work, saying “one cannot expect to find the ideal position”.

Last Wednesday Claudio Zarcone, the grief stricken father of a Sicilian student who reportedly committed suicide over the absence of job opportunities, launched legal action against the minister over what she said. He is the father of Norman, a language student who is said to have taken his life to protest against the university system he accused of blocking opportunities for young researchers.

”It’s inconceivable that government representatives continue to use such terms when referring to our young, as it is offensive to the individuals, to their professionalism and to the humanity of an entire generation,” said Zarcone. ”This way my son is getting killed over and over again. His whole generation is delegitimised, frustrated and mortified.”

As Prime Minister Mario Monti pledged to press ahead with his controversial structural reforms on Friday, Italy’s largest trade union organisation CGIL was preparing for a national strike which will be held on November 14 against the Monti government’s austerity measures. ”We need an extraordinary employment plan that stops this continual fall,” the union announced. “This tailspin between austerity and recession is bringing the country to its knees.”

Elsewhere there are demonstrations of a different kind. This week the Italian capital is bracing for a series of protests and sit-ins as hundreds of students and teachers unite against the government’s cuts to education and other sectors.

Pietro Reichlin, professor of economics at Rome’s Luiss University, had a different take on the youth unemployment crisis. Despite some changes approved by the parliament, he said youth unemployment was particularly high in Italy because of structural issues that made it difficult to hire and fire workers and an education system that failed to effectively channel people into the labour market.

There is a problem with the rigidity of the labour laws that favour insiders — older workers who already have jobs because it is so difficult to fire them,” Reichlin told Crikey. ”In the past 15 years some flexibility was introduced but the problem with temporary contracts is the young were always the first to be fired. There is no simple solution.”

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