Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Obverse and Reverse Sides of Precariousness in Italy: Young Highly Skilled Workers between Passions and Skill Mismatch

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Obverse and Reverse Sides of Precariousness in Italy: Young Highly Skilled Workers between Passions and Skill Mismatch

Article excerpt


Much recent scholarly debate has focused on how processes of deregulation and flexibilisation are transforming traditional work arrangements (Arum and Muller 2004; Kalleberg 2009). In recent decades, an increasing variety of atypical employment relationships - such as part-time work, fixed-term contracts, temp-agency work and self-employment (without employees) - has eroded the 'standard employment relationship' traditionally embodied in a (male) employee on an open-ended and full-time contract who enjoys the full protection of labour law and the welfare system such as minimum wages or collective agreements, working time legislation, a redundancy fund, social security (Walthéry and Vielle 2004; Castel 2009). Inspection of the European labour markets shows that this process has followed a skill-centred strategy in Central and North European countries and an age-targeted strategy in the Mediterranean ones. Consequently, in Southern Europe the phenomenon of over-qualification among young people is considerable and their educational level does not provide a guarantee against unemployment and/or precarious employment (Samek Lodovici and Semenza 2012; Murgia and Poggio 2014). The main outcome has been the creation of strongly segmented insider/outsider labour markets, between highly protected jobs (traditional work positions) and highly flexible jobs (internships, short-term contracts, solo self-employment). This segmentation drives the growth of new forms of social inequality, especially in the Bismarckian Central and Southern European welfare states (Blossfeld et al. 2005; Häusermann and Schwander 2012).

This article discusses the particular case of Italy, which is distinguished by being one of the European countries that records the worst results both for young people who obtain a university degree and the rate of youth unemployment. In order to gain deeper understanding of the precarious working conditions and of the misalignment between educational levels and the lack of high-skilled occupations, the precariousness experienced by young highly-educated workers in Italy is presented. As discussed in Armano and Murgia (2013), precariousness should be conceptualised solely, or even necessarily, in relation to temporary jobs, but as a process which is shaping contemporary forms of subjectivity as a whole. Work precariousness is particularly evident in temporary, discontinuous, and uncertain employment relations, characterising a structural condition tied to work and the employment contract. However, a conceptual shift is necessary to bring a focus upon 'social precariousness', a term which better describes an experiential state that permeates the entire lives of individuals (Murgia 2010).

This article addresses the above issues as follows. First, the general framework of the Italian context is described. Second, the methodological approach is briefly presented. Then, the analysis of the collected narratives is presented, which focuses on everyday working lives on the one hand, and on future expectations on the other. The conclusion discusses existing work/ employment conditions and the multiple facets of precariousness which seem to deny both young-adults with under-qualified jobs and also, albeit in different ways, young highly-educated workers involved in so-called knowledge-based activities, their working and life perspectives.

Higher Education and Employment in Italy: An Overview

One of the main Europe 2020 targets is to raise to at least 40 per cent the share of the population aged 30 to 34 that has completed tertiary or equivalent education. However, the proportion of graduates in this age group varies considerably across Europe. According to the Eurostat (Eurostat 2014), in 2013 Northern and Central Europe had the highest percentage of tertiary graduates with 16 countries exceeding the overall EU target of 40%, while the lowest levels of below 25% were recorded in Italy and Romania. …

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