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Istituto Avogadro in Turin, the proper blend of literature and hi-tech skills

The quote by Leonardo Sciascia of how most of us would know little about ourselves and the world if not taught by literature opened the meeting last Friday at the Istituto Tecnico Avogadro in Turin. A discussion on literature and industry, based on the anthology La fabbrica di carta – I libri che hanno raccontato l’Italia industriale [“The paper factory. Books which have narrated industrial Italy”], edited by Giorgio Bigatti and Giuseppe Lupo, published by Laterza and sponsored by Assolombarda, and the film Il libro e la fabbrica [“The Book and the Factory”], a first-rate short made by students at the Istituto (it can be found on YouTube and of course on the website of the Istituto, www.itisavogadro.it).

The quote by Sciascia is appropriate, an intelligent suggestion by the head of the Avogadro, Tommaso De Luca. Not because the writer was familiar with industry (the sulphur mines of his home village in Sicily were, still in the Fifties, a savage form of ancient capitalism, run by the mafia and ruthlessly exploiting child labour) but because literature in fact holds the key to understanding and interpreting science, economics and the more complex of industrial relations. Tales therefore that support corporate culture. Corporate culture as culture tout court, as a real “polytechnic culture” which overcomes false divisions between humanistic knowledge and science (an idea dear to the Fondazione Pirelli, which the students and teachers of the Avogadro greatly appreciated).

An interesting discussion therefore on the topical nature of industry for development in Italy, as well as on its history, on the memory of a Turin which for many years was “car capital” and today a metropolis undergoing a transition after the decline of the “company town” with the Fiat brand, on the many faces of innovation and on the relationship between education, critique, work, productivity and competitiveness. Crucial issues for young students (who in the great hall were the boys and few girls from the fifth form) who are close to entering the world of work or about to take the decision to enroll at university with strong professional opportunities.

The Avogadro is moreover an excellent college. Set up in 1805 (one of the initiatives from the Napoleonic age, as part of a radical rethink of education) to teach geometry, chemistry and architecture which later became the “Istituto professionale operaio” in the industrial Turin of the early 20th century (with a school of arts and crafts and an art college) and later Regia Scuola Industriale. In 1946 it took the name of the great physicist from Piedmont Amedeo Avogadro. 1700 students are enrolled (350 in evening classes for those who work) at the school of applied sciences and the technical college of technology, with three specialisations, mechanical engineering and mechatronics, electronics and electrical engineering and computer studies and telecommunications. Half of these students find a job immediately after gaining a diploma and half go to university, the Turin Politecnico, with particularly brilliant results (“more than half of those who obtain postgraduate degrees from the Politecnico come from technical colleges”, the head De Luca told us).

Persons of quality therefore. Well-trained human capital able to face the needs of the labour market both in the industry of the “great Turin” and overseas, following for example the expansion of the “pocket-size multinationals” in Piedmont. The technical colleges in fact (Confindustria, the industrialists association, has been saying this for years) are the keystones for the development of corporate Italy: high-level skills and young people ready to face successfully the hi-tech evolution of Italian business. The Avogadro, naturally, as from this year, is one of the seven colleges chosen for the “experimental program of high-education training” introduced by Law no. 128 of 2013 and agreed by the education and labour ministries, Enel, regional authorities and the education sector. Companies are opening their doors to the “student apprentices”. Classroom, workshop and on-the-job training, to use a managerial expression, for up to 35% of the annual class time. An innovative way (in the wake of positive experiments launched some time ago, for example in Germany) of improving the people needed by businesses in the era of the knowledge economy. Advanced technologies, research, innovation, hi-tech skills linked directly to the production cycle. The proper route, provided critical thought is not overlooked (Avogadro himself, in the Piedmont of the House of Savoy, was an excellent example of this) and (why not?) good literature, the key to understanding people and the changes in the world.