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Too few and ill-treated graduates, to cope with the “humanifacturing” challenge

There are too few graduates in Italy. Who are maltreated, poorly paid, forced to take inadequate jobs. This is the summary, on the Italian media, of the recent OECD report on “Strategia per le competenze” (Strategy for skills) (6 October). With a disheartening conclusion: in times when competitiveness relies mainly on “human capital”, the country continues to lose valuable development opportunities. And many of our best youths choose to leave, seeking better living and working conditions elsewhere. They are the “brain drain”, hundreds of thousands of “talents” over the last few years, a genuine haemorrhage that makes up one point of GDP in a year: 14 billion, among state and family expenditure to train young people who then flee abroad and almost always never come back (survey by the Confindustria Study Centre, we talked about this in the blog of 19th September).

OECD data state that only 20% of Italians aged between 25 and 34 complete their university studies, compared to an OECD average of 30%. And Italy is the only country in the G7 where the share of graduates in routine jobs is higher than that of graduates employed in complex processes and with decision-making powers. In general, 30% of workers have “excessive skills” or are “overqualified” for the duties they have to carry out. Here it is, inadequacy.

The OECD confirms a “mismatch” between training and employment. And in preceding analyses, it also noticed an excess of degrees in humanities (including legal subjects) and a serious lack of “stem” graduates (the initials for science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In short, it is a disaster. A serious malfunctioning of our educational system, where we spend far too little, just 4 % of GDP against the OECD average 5.2 %. Too little. And poorly.

This is the second point: the quality of the university. Recent media news were packed with the new scandal referred to as “concorsopoli” (examination-fiddling): a distorted system in many universities, to facilitate the assignment of professorships and postings to family members, thanks to “friends in high places”, people faithful to academic schools and consortia of powers and interests. It is not the first scandal, and it will probably not be the last. The judiciary is investigating. But while we wait for justice to be done, the judgement that many young people can form by themselves is terrible: Italy, once again, confirms that it is a country that rewards the clientele and not the merit. So it is better, much better, to leave.

Few graduates, who are maltreated and humiliated, in the heart of Academia, the place of the highest levels of research and education, by the children and by those who are protected by the “barons”.

There is an open debate on what to do. Investments and reforms on education (recent governments have begun to change something). A prize for universities who, by applying as much as possible the margins permitted to the boards of directors and to the Academic Senates by the Gelmini Reform in terms of autonomy, call quality teachers and researchers, even from abroad, for their professorships. Along with stimuli for improved cooperation between universities and companies who invest in “talent” and innovation. From this point of view too, useful indications may come from Milan: in the universities of the metropolis, the number of students who come here to study from abroad is growing, and its universities most exposed to competition and to international comparisons (Bocconi University, Politecnico, Humanitas, etc.) grow while selecting the right kind of teachers and students. This has a positive effect on the attractiveness and competitiveness of the entire territory.

The challenge of development focuses on the use of intelligence. These are times of “humanifacturing”, writes Luca De Biase on “IlSole24Ore” (8 October), speaking about the projects of one of the best Italian multinationals, Comau, with an effective neologism of synthesis between “humanities”, humanistic skills starting with philosophy and the “sciences of the beautiful” and “manufacturing”, the extraordinary Italian vocation for quality manufacturing. We need “strong specialisations and extensively open minds,” they say at Comau. Anything but a contradiction. Maurizio Cremonini, marketing manager of Comau, explains: “Devising, constructing, and operating the architecture of the factory today is a complex job that requires strong technical skills. But technologies are evolving rapidly and the necessary specialisations are becoming obsolete: without extensive preparation it is difficult to keep up”. Extensive and therefore capable of understanding and reorganising the complexities, remodulating mechanisms, rewriting relationships and connections, giving a mobile shape to change, tailor-making machines and skills.

“Industry4.0”, big data, cloud computing, state-of-the-art robotics, digital systems are changing production, products, work. At the next future frontier, “mechatronics”, only those who innovate will grow. In other words those who know how to implement resources for a new “civilization of machines”, capable of being in line with the digital organisation of work and with the “connections” that already mark our metropolises, amid “smart city” dimensions and economic and cultural challenges of the “sharing economy” (to get an idea, it is worth reading La città di domani – Come le Reti stanno cambiando il futuro urbano” (The city of tomorrow – how networks are changing the urban future) by Carlo Ratti, Einaudi and Cambio di paradigma – Uscire dalla crisi pensando il futuro” (Paradigm shift – Emerging from the crisis while thinking about the future) by Mauro Magatti, Feltrinelli). Robotics on a human scale. And new choices from a “civil economy”.

“Engineer philosophers” and “engineer poets”, as we have written several times in this blog. “Polytechnic culture”. It is the challenge of the frontier for our universities and our companies: more, better and better-treated graduates. The true key to development.