A Harsh Reality: The Best Hope for Italy’s Youth Today Lies Abroad

More and more young Italians are heading to China to find employment, or at least just to have an occupation and gain experience, even without pay. The chance to learn and to add to one’s curriculum vitae in the hopes of a better chance of employment in the future is enough. Osservatorio Asia and the Mandarin fund have been getting an increasing number of highly qualified applications; serious, educated, young Italians are willing to work in a distant land as difficult and competitive as China. They are not only seeking income, but the vitality of a growing society, in stark contrast to a listless and decadent Europe. It is estimated that there are at least 9,000 young Italians in mainland China, excluding Hong Kong (4,501 of which are registered with the Registry of Italians Living Abroad, or AIRE), a threefold increase over the past few years, and they have recently created the Association of Young Italians in China, or AGIC. They are just fragments of a much more vast and terrible phenomenon, as the most recent ISTAT (the Italian National Institute for Statistics) reveal that a shocking 40% of young Italians are unemployed. This is an emergency within an emergency. A new acronym has been coined for many of these young people: they are NEET, Not in Employment, Education, or Training. In other words, they have nothing to do, although it would be more accurate to say that they are not being offered anything to keep them busy. This problem is not only hitting Italy: Spanish engineers are going to work in Mexico, the Portuguese to Brazil and Angola. Italy’s more educated young minds aspire to attend American universities, but they do not shun underpaid jobs in New York, London, or Berlin. They join an army of humble and willing workers who have left Italy to find employment, create a future, and to give themselves some dignity. International resorts and many Italian restaurants in China are full of Italian personnel that perform their duties with class and dignity. Past Italian governments could have avoided this problem beforehand, or alleviated it afterwards. Their hand in the problem begins in the 1970’s, but economists, union leaders, and bankers have failed in this respect, each in their own way. Public spending was just a poisonous cover for their incompetence. The governing political parties, starting the DC (Christian Democrats) in the 1970’s, are responsible for creating the premise of debt and deficit, but the PCI (Italian Communist Party), the DC’s main opposition, eased their resistance to the increase of public spending and debt whenever it served their electoral base. Just think of the “baby pensions,” the inefficient spending in the south, the uncontrollable and unmanageable increase in government employment. The reward for the political class has been the incredibly low esteem it now enjoys among the population. To make up for it, the government could now offer a glimmer of hope: beg today’s youth for forgiveness and help them find work abroad and not in Italy, where it will be impossible to find for decades to come, and recognize that it has been selling false hopes and intervening with palliatives all along. Helping our youth go abroad is a defeat and an economic loss, because they have been educated, often very well, with public funding. But it would be an even greater loss to keep them in Italy without giving them an outlet for their education. A young professional that stays out of work for two or three years can lose a great part of their accumulated proficiency, they don’t gain experience, and they lose confidence. Keeping them here would be an ulterior loss not only for individuals, but also for the whole country. The reality in this country is even more dramatic than what we would be led to believe: no jobs will be created because Italy is no longer competitive on a global scale, there will be no development for generations to come, and therefore there will not be any new jobs for our youth and maybe not even for Italians that have yet to be born. The hope given by the Euro, the safety created by the common currency has evaporated in the face of the crisis and subsequent inaction. But the most serious problem is that none of our current leaders have any idea how to create a competitive nation, for the simple reason that they have never seen one. They don’t know what they are talking about, they would not know what to do, and by this fact they are not doing anything useful. A moral and intellectual crime is being committed against our younger generation. I would rather see private international placement agencies created to help evacuate our educated youth from an Italy without hope, taking advantage of the Internet and intergovernmental agreements. Developing nations need professionals, and industrialized nations need brains, individuality, and some good hard workers. These traits are not in short supply in Italy, but they are not valued nearly enough. And I don’t mean just intellectual workers, of which the Almalaurea of the University of Bologna has a very useful database with thousands of names. The opportunity should be given to everyone, from waiters (the best in the world!) to cooks, from construction workers to sommeliers. These agencies, if they were to come into being, would begin to make up for the past failures. The public administration needs to cease its rhetoric, because the credibility of its statements has fallen to its lowest levels, and an entire generation has been bamboozled out of its rightful aspirations. It should do something more intelligent, for once: admit the failure of the celebrated “Sistema Italia.” It should negotiate a different system with other governments, looking for hidden opportunities, growing sectors, and the protection of our young workers abroad. The possibilities are endless, and certainly better than desperation and decline. They should have the courage to assume responsibility in front of the millions of young people who are not being offered an unalienable right, and then they should make every effort to correct their mistakes. Of course a country with no youth will die, but it is also impossible for every one to leave. Many will stay for a variety of reasons, but Italy also cannot afford to lose significant parts of entire generations. Those that do depart could be offered tax breaks if and when they decide to return. It would not be the first time, and there have been noble precedents: during the Renaissance period there was no Italian nation, but the greatest minds came out of this territory, the most versatile talents and the most skillful artisans, and they were highly valued by the European courts they enriched with their presence.