Same Beach, Same Sea

The umpteenth graduation season is upon us, and it seems like a good time to jump on one of my usual war horses in the face of a situation that won’t improve over the long summer, during the following fall, or the next academic season. Unemployment among young people in Italy is structurally chronic, and will require generations in order to be resolved. In the meantime, imbalances exist between demand for work and the availability of jobs in many decidedly important and developed areas throughout the world, and I don’t think it’s worth it to let our children rot in Italy. Because the fact is that people study in Italy but can’t find work here. I’m on the frontline of this enormous problem. I receive heartbreaking emails from recent college grads asking for advice, offering to work for free. A few months ago, a young man that did an internship in my office in Shanghai asked to stay once his assignment ended. I responded that, unfortunately, even Mandarin needs to face its budget issues, and he answered, “No, Alberto, I’ll work for free!” How could this be? At this point, unemployment among young people is endemic. And it’s not the fault of our current government. The government can’t resolve this problem because it’s complicated and stems from very far away. Italy isn’t involved in strategic sectors: biotech, software, artificial intelligence, robotics, and avionics. Dramatically, our country doesn’t exist in areas oriented toward the future. We need to stop deceiving ourselves that Italy can have a future tied to quality. To be clear, there are areas of excellence, but they’re not enough. There are great Italian companies, but they are too few. In the world of the internet over the past 15 years, Italy has produced Yoox. During the same time, the US witnessed Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Apple’s rebirth. Why did things turn out this way? The answer is simple. The Italian educational system has collapsed. And without schools and universities, there’s no development; there’s no escaping this rule. All of the world’s innovative ecosystems were born near the most important universities. Silicon Valley grew near Stanford and the University of California system. The biotech companies in Kendall Square, Cambridge MA, are nestled by MIT and the Harvard Medical School. Another strong one is growing in the English triangle formed by King’s College London, Oxford, and Cambridge. The mechanism has proven consolidated: an academic researcher comes up with an idea, the university makes an agreement with a company to develop the idea, then they work on it in tandem. Near my house in Boston by Kendall Square, when you look up you see Pfizer’s 20-story building, and Novartis’ 40 stories. And there are tons of jobs in there, considering that the world of pharmaceuticals lives here. Instead, all of this is missing in Italy because we annihilated everything in 30 years. There are no more resources for Italian schools or universities. Sure, let’s reduce property taxes when ceiling tiles are falling on students’ heads, you have to bring your own silverware to the hospital, and there are holes the size of craters in the streets. Our biggest fault, I will repeat ad infinitum, is having destroyed the educational system. If you then add bureaucracy and lack of a meritocracy, an explosive mix emerges. In the 1960s, when I was a student at the University of Bologna, the problems were the same: the businesses were too small; there were few resources for research and development, and too much deficit. These problems have ballooned and became irresolvable. While at the Harvard Business School, a single professor can, without asking anyone’s permission, dispose of $250,000 for a research project. How do you get back in line? There’s only one remedy. You need to do what I’ve been saying for years: work on your kids, make them study and then send them abroad where the world runs fast to find intelligent jobs in engineering, programming, or biotech, but also as waiters and chefs. For the time being, make them put down the Playstation and stop studying communication because they don’t want to study match or because engineering is too hard. Do you know why China is 115th in FIFA’s standings? Because they churn out 30,000 engineers per year! And these are our future competitors, while our kids think about becoming models and soccer players. Then we complain that the country went to the dogs. Today, you stay on your feet in two ways: you make things that cost the least, or you make things nobody else can. We don’t know how to make things cheaply anymore, and if there aren’t any schools to teach us what others can’t do, we’re finished. Therefore, this summer, no more discos. Study. You can go dancing when you have a satisfying job.

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