Italians Are Taking Unemployment Into Their Own Hands

Se da un lato il tasso di disoccupazione in Italia - particolarmente tra i giovani - continua ad essere preoccupante e molti stanno quindi cercando opportunità di inserimento all’estero, alcuni sono riusciti a sfruttare l’immenso patrimonio delle attività artigianali per avviare o sviluppare piccole imprese importantissime per le economie locali. Che si tratti di concerie, laboratori di soffiaggio di vetro, scuole di cucina, negozi di gioielli o prodotti alimentari, gli artigiani italiani sono da sempre orgogliosi di sfruttare tecniche centenarie per creare prodotti tipici della loro regione.

While the overall unemployment rate in Italy continues to be alarming, of particular concern is the number of jobless young people. Among the 15-24 age group, the hardest group hit by Italy’s economic troubles, the unemployment rate was a steep 35.2% in February 2017. Many young Italians are leaving their native country for better opportunities elsewhere. However, some have found a niche that just may prove to not only support them personally, but also boost the economy as a whole.

Italian artisans and small business owners are certainly making an impact on their local economies. The cultural legacy that traditional artisans have created is alive and thriving. Whether it be tanneries, glass blowing laboratories, culinary schools, jewelry-making shops, or anything else between, Italian artisans still take pride in using centenary techniques to create products that are typical for their region. These techniques must be passed down from generation to generation in a hands-on approach. And, contrary to what many believe, young Italians are as interested in learning the traditional methods of the artisans as the artisans are in teaching them.

Brioni, the esteemed menswear company, founded the Scuola di Alta Sartoria in Penne in the Abruzzo region of Italy in 1985. Stating that “tailoring is a cultural legacy that takes decades to transmit from a seasoned master to a young talent,” Brioni’s founders knew they needed to safeguard the Brioni tradition by investing in the schooling of new generations. Every four years, only 16 pupils are rigorously selected to attend the tailoring high school. In recent years, applications from young Italians keen to learn the trade have increased. These students are among a generation in Italy who are turning to industries that formed as the backbone of the country’s post-WWII economy to make a living.

Other Italians are rediscovering their entrepreneurial spirit whether it be in shoe-making, hairdressing, pasta-making, or jewelry-making, honing in on family artisanal traditions and opening up shops based on inherited skills.

Still, others have found a different approach to keep jobs for themselves and their neighbors. Italian co-ops are becoming more prevalent in regions all over Italy. If fact, Emilia Romagna, a region with nearly 4.5 million people, has one of the densest cooperative communities in the world. About two out of every three inhabitants are co-op members, together producing around 30 percent of the region’s GDP. A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. In short, the employees buy-out a failing business to keep it running. Editoriale Zanardi, a prestige book printer in northeast Italy, is one of dozens of small and medium-size enterprises that were battered by the economic crisis. In 2014, employees of Zanardi trusted in their company enough to invest their unemployment and severance payments to create a co-op to remain in business. This means employees took pay cuts and became entrepreneurs to invest in their future. All because they believed in the underlying technique of the book printing and the particular employees essential to creating the finished products.

The level of pride that Italians have in their artisanal techniques paired with the persistence and drive of their spirits will surely lead the country to persevere through any economic downfalls.