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Italy should strengthen reform implementation to boost skills

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Recent reforms of Italy’s education system (“Buona Scuola”), labour market (“Jobs Act”) and industrial policy (“Industria 4.0”) have clear synergies and could reduce worrying imbalances between the supply and demand of skills on the Italian labour market, according to the new OECD report Getting Skills Right: Italy

Stefano Scarpetta (Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs at the OECD) has said, however, that there are still a number of unresolved issues over the effective implementation of the reforms. Speaking alongside the Italian labour minister Giuliano Poletti, Mr Scarpetta said: “Italy has done a great deal over recent years and the reforms are starting to bear fruit. There are still a number of issues which, if resolved, could lead to the effective implementation of important reforms such as a programme for alternating school and work, Industry 4.0 and active labour-market policies.

The results of the new OECD Skills for Jobs indicators, published alongside the report, provide a detailed snapshot of the most sought-after skills on the Italian labour market and differences between the various regions. The data shows high demand for skills related to knowledge of new technologies such as IT and electronics, software programming and use of digital technologies. Scarpetta said: “[Italy] still has work to do to develop the IT skills needed to confront labour-market challenges, now and in the future. Our data clearly shows major demand for digital skills across the country which, unless it is met, could have negative consequences for Italy’s growth and competitiveness.” Professionals with good knowledge of IT, new digital technologies, and medical and engineering technologies are highly prized in the Italian job market, with employability and salaries well above the average.

Even so, demand for these skills – and high-level skills in general – remains too weak and is confined to the needs of large Italian corporations. The rest of the Italian economy is concentrated in traditional, low-productivity sectors where there is little demand for high-level skills, with about 85% of Italian businesses being small and mainly family-run.

Italy is therefore in a state of equilibrium, with the supply and demand of skills tending to level downwards, in a vicious cycle that has clear negative repercussions on productivity, growth and use of new technologies.

The report also shows that many Italians specialise in areas with few employment opportunities, despite the demand for technical, engineering, technological and mathematical skills, which itself remains too weak. About 35% of Italian workers are in jobs that are unrelated to their training and 21% are in jobs for which they are over-qualified. Moreover, the report shows that this situation is associated with an average salary loss of around 17% compared to those who specialise in an area with clear employment opportunities whose skills are in demand from businesses.

The report sets out a number of points for consideration, including:

  • Italy needs stronger ties between the education system and the world of work at all levels. The creation of higher technical colleges (“ITS”), based on robust links with the local economy, is a welcome innovation in Italian professional training and so far has generated brilliant results, helping to develop skills that are rapidly absorbed into the Italian labour market. The new Professional Degrees also have the potential to fill the shortfall of technical skills in Italy, but to do so they must forge strong links between universities and business from the start, aiming to develop high-level professional and technical skills, rather than primarily theoretical skills as has been the case in the past.
  • The programme for alternating school and work is a step in the right direction, but many challenges remain. On one hand, businesses need to take a greater role in designing the content of work-based learning and, on the other hand, educational managers need adequate financial and teaching resources to forge links with businesses across Italy, including in poorer areas where there is less scope for engaging with business.
  • Italy needs to strengthen high-performance working practices (HPWP) such as mentoring, job rotation or flexible responsibilities. These practices are already fairly widespread in other countries but are still too rare in Italy. The skill level of Italian managers – especially in small companies – is not always adequate and needs to be improved through targeted training programmes. This would enable small businesses to grasp the importance of new technologies and be able to benefit from their productive potential.
  • Opportunities for workers to upgrade and update their skills must be improved through the more judicious use of funds for continuous training, linking their use to the real needs and challenges of the Italian labour market. Indeed, there are still many Italian workers with poor IT skills, little knowledge of foreign languages and a shortage of a wide range of core technical skills. Often, though, a considerable proportion of continuous training funds have been channelled into developing skills in areas that are merely incidental to the challenges posed by rapid technological change, globalisation and automation.
  • Active labour-market policies are a crucial challenge for Italy. In view of current institutional arrangements, Italy needs to adopt mechanisms to strengthen cooperation between the central state and the regions, by identifying clear, shared and objective parameters to ensure that unemployed persons receive the same quality of services throughout the country.

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Sustainable infrastructure can drive development and COVID-19 recovery

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Zimbabwe has long struggled with crippling power outages, some of which can last up to 18 hours a day. The cuts have been especially hard on the country’s hospitals and clinics, forcing nurses to deliver babies by candlelight and doctors to postpone emergency surgeries.

But that is starting to change. Since 2017, Zimbabwe has installed solar panels atop more than 400 healthcare facilities, steadying power supplies and replacing expensive and polluting diesel-fired generators. The “Solar for Health” initiative is a prime example of the type of sustainable infrastructure development that will be vital to combating climate change, improving public services and driving the economic recovery from COVID-19.

So says a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It urges planners and policymakers to take a more systematic approach to sustainable infrastructure, incorporating it into their long-term development plans and ensuring human-made systems work with natural ones.

“We can no longer use the business-as-usual approach to infrastructure, which is leading to ecological destruction and massive carbon dioxide emissions. Investments in sustainable infrastructure are not only environmentally sound but also bring economic and social benefits. Low-carbon, nature-positive infrastructure projects can help minimize the sector’s environmental footprint and offer a more sustainable, cost-effective path to closing the infrastructure gap,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.   

A source of emissions

Built infrastructure, which includes everything from office blocks to highways to power plants, is responsible for 70 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, mentions the report, the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure. Poorly designed, infrastructure can also displace communities, endanger wildlife and weigh, often for decades, on public finances.

“There is an urgent need to include sustainable and climate resilient infrastructure as an integral part of green growth to deliver energy, water, and transportation solutions that will facilitate opportunity, connection, and sustainable growth,” said Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the Global Green Growth Institute, a UNEP partner.”

Ban said the new report is a “very useful guiding framework for governments to lay the groundwork for a future where sustainable infrastructure is the only kind of infrastructure we know.”

To help countries reach that goal, the new UNEP report offers guiding principles for governments to integrate sustainability into their decision making on infrastructure.  Among other things, it recommends that states align their infrastructure planning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, humanity’s blueprint for a better future. It also urges them to minimize the environmental footprint of construction projects and meaningfully engage local communities in infrastructure decision making.

Return on investment

The report also highlighted the economic return on sustainable infrastructure, which includes renewable energy plants, eco-friendly public buildings and low-carbon transport. Investing in renewables and energy efficiency, it said, creates five times more jobs than investments in fossil fuels. Similarly, investing in resilient infrastructure in developing countries can create a return of US$4 for every US$1 invested, according to the World Bank.

Trend setters

Alongside the report, UNEP released a series of case studies that showed how many countries are finding innovative ways to develop sustainable infrastructure.

In Ecuador, the government has turned to nature-based solutions to bolster water supplies to several major cities. By replanting trees, fencing off rivers and purchasing land for conservation, one region has revived watersheds that support more than 400,000 people.

In Singapore, which is aiming to have 80 per cent of its buildings certified as green by 2030, builders have used recycled materials to construct everything from schools to corporate offices. (The country was the first to unveil a building constructed entirely of recycled concrete aggregate and demolition waste.)

With COVID-19 sparking a global wave of stimulus spending, Ambroise Fayolle, Vice President of the European Investment Bank said the publication of the principles “is timely, reminding us all of the importance of building back better by tackling the long-term challenges we face.”  

UN Environment

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COVID-19 is reversing the important gains made over the last decade for women

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Progress for women in work could be back at 2017 levels by the end of 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to analysis conducted for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, which measures female economic empowerment across 33 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries*.  The evidence emerging globally is that the damage from COVID-19 and government response and recovery policies, is disproportionately being felt by women.

For nine years, countries across the OECD* made consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment. However, due to COVID-19 this trend will now be reversed, with the Index estimated to fall 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021, according to analysis undertaken for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index. The Index will not begin to recover until 2022, where it should gain back 0.8 points. 

In order to undo the damage caused by COVID-19 to women in work – even by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization at PwC, said:

“The setbacks that we are experiencing with COVID-19 in terms of the workforce tell a worrisome story. While the impacts are being felt by everyone across the globe, we are seeing women exiting the workforce at a faster rate than men. Women carry a heavier burden than men of unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic, and it is limiting women’s time and options to contribute to the economy. In the labour market, more women work in hard-hit human contact-intensive service sectors  – such as accomodation and food services, and retail trade. With social distancing and lockdowns, these sectors have seen unprecedented job losses.”   

Between 2019 and 2020, the annual OECD unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points for women (from 5.7% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2020). In the US, the female unemployment rate increased sharply from 4% in March 2020 to 16% in April 2020. The female unemployment rate stayed high for the remainder of 2020, ending the year in December 2020 at 6.7%, 3 percentage points higher than in December 2019.  In the UK, the full impact of job losses from COVID-19 is yet to be realised due to job retention schemes, but furlough data shows that women are at greater risk of losing their jobs when these schemes come to an end. Between July and October 2020, a total of 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK. For furloughed jobs for which gender was known, 52% of these were women’s jobs, despite women only making up 48% of the workforce.*** 

The disproportionate burden of unpaid childcare falls on women

Before COVID-19 hit, women on average spent six more hours than men on unpaid childcare every week (according to research by UN Women). During COVID-19, women have taken on an even greater share and now spend 7.7 more hours per week on unpaid childcare than men**  – this ‘second shift’ equates to 31.5 hours per week; almost as much an extra full-time job. 

This increase in unpaid labour has already reduced women’s contribution to the economy. If this extra burden lasts, it will cause more women to leave the labour market permanently, reversing progress towards gender equality and reducing productivity in the economy. 

While some women may choose to leave the workforce temporarily due to COVID-19 with the intention to return post-pandemic, research shows that career breaks have long-term impacts on women’s labour market prospects, and women will return to lower paid and lower skilled positions. 

PwC Women in Work 2021 Index (performance prior to COVID-19 pandemic)

Iceland continues to hold the top spot on the Index out of OECD countries. It is a consistent strong performer in female labour force participation (84%), has a small participation rate gap (5%), and even smaller female unemployment rate (3%).  

Greece saw the largest increase in terms of Index score between 2018 and 2019, driven by improvement in all labour market indicators except for the share of full-time female employees. On the contrary, Portugal experienced the largest decline in Index score between 2018 and 2019 due to a widening of its gender pay gap by 5 percentage points.

New Zealand and Slovenia both increased their rankings on the Index by one position. New Zealand saw an upward trend across all five indicators and has risen by 5 spots on the Index over the course of nine years. Government policy and a history of female representation in political institutions have helped to drive these gains. Slovenia’s improvement was driven by a fall in the participation rate gap and in female unemployment, as well as an increase in the share of full-time female employment. 

If OECD countries increased their rates of female employment to match Sweden’s (consistently the top performer), the gain to GDP would be over US$6 trillion per annum. The US, with one of the highest female unemployment rates, is expected to gain the most – as much as US$1.7 trillion per annum. 

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65% of Adults Think Race, Ethnicity or National Origin Affects Job Opportunities

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A recent Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey has found that 65% of all adults believe that, in their country, someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin influences their employment opportunities. When considering their own race, ethnicity, or national origin, more than one-third say it has impacted their personal employment opportunities.

The online survey was conducted between 22 January and 5 February 2021, among more than 20,000 adults in 27 countries. It also reveals that 60% of adults think that someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin plays a role in education opportunities, access to housing, and access to social services.

As Black History Month in the United States draws to a close, awareness of the impacts of race, ethnicity and national origin on opportunities in life is exceptionally high. It follows a tumultuous year when the pandemic put inequality into the spotlight, and events in the US sparked international protests as long-simmering, systemic racial inequities came to the forefront.

Of those surveyed, 46% say the events of the past year have increased differences in opportunities as well as access to housing, education, employment and/or social services in their country. In comparison, 43% say the events have had no impact on differences and 12% say they have decreased differences.

About 60% of respondents in Latin America, Spain and South Africa, and nearly half in France, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Belgium and the US say recent events have increased race, ethnicity, or national origin-based differences in opportunities in their country, compared to only about one in three in Germany, Poland and Saudi Arabia, one in four in China, and one in seven in Russia.

Perceptions versus the reported personal experience of inequality also vary significantly in countries. Compared with the 27-country average for all four types of opportunities measured, several countries stand out.

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