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Graduating students throw mortarboards in the air
"The Flight of Talent" blog documents Italy's brain drainImage: dpa

Italy's 'brain drain'

April 24, 2010

Italian graduates are increasingly opting to go abroad to find high-level jobs and competitive salaries. Many complain that employers in Italy do not use an open and fair selection process when filling positions.


Every week, Italian journalist Sergio Nava interviews young Italian graduates living abroad for his show on Radio 24. In one episode, he speaks to Alberto Orengia, a 27-year-old project manager at a consulting agency in Shanghai. Like Nava's other interviewees, Alberto is young, bright and ambitious - and felt he had to flee Italy to find work that matched his skill level.

Last year, Nava wrote a book on Italy's 'brain drain'. He now runs a blog called "La Fuga dei Talenti" ("The Flight of Talent"). It's a subject he's clearly passionate about.

According to Nava, Italy is a country run by the elder generation, and young graduates there are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity.

A portrait photo of Sergio Nava
Journalist Sergio Nava has reported extensively on Italy's 'brain drain' problemImage: Sergio Nava

In addition to having one of the worst performing economies in the eurozone - the youth unemployment rate is 26.9 percent and average salaries are 32 percent below the European average - many complain that Italy has a hiring culture based on cronyism rather than meritocracy.

"We are now in an era of globalization. We have old drivers at the wheel who drive with the old rules, who select their closest relatives or friends, and who are literally pushing away from this country the best minds and brains," Nava told Deutsche Welle in Milan.

Young graduates seek work abroad

It is difficult to assess exactly how many young graduates are heading overseas, as there are no official statistics for this kind of new emigration from Italy.

But according to a survey by the recruitment agency Bachelor, 49 percent of new Italian graduates said they would need to move abroad in order to take advantage of their education.

Many of the young expatriates interviewed by Nava said they were surprised to find a "real selection structure", high level jobs on offer, and competitive salaries when they applied for positions abroad.

"So, many of them - if they don't have strong roots here - just decide to go," said Nava.

A crowd watches a light show over the Pudong skyline in Shanghai
Many graduates are leaving Italy for the bright lights of cities like ShanghaiImage: AP

And they go all over the world - from the US to Germany to Dubai. Italian graduate students Andrea Lorio and Tommaso D'Ercole, who are both in their mid-twenties, said they expect to work abroad when they finish their program at the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna.

"I've spent most of my time working or interning abroad. I almost never - except for one short experience - worked in Italy, even though I did all of my undergraduate studies in Italy," said Andrea.

"There is this kind of discrepancy between the education I got, which in Italy I still consider as being of very good quality, and the (level of work) you might find that you're prepared for."

"In order to be challenged and in order to find an exciting working place, I would definitely like to go abroad."

Andrea Lorio (left) and Tommaso D'Ercole
Graduate students Andrea Lorio (left) and Tommaso D'Ercole say Italy has little to offerImage: DW

Italy's generational divide

"The main problem is that the old labor market in Italy is structured in a different way compared to the US," Tommaso said. "Here, the career is very hierarchical and so even if you are a very talented student, you cannot get a good position from the beginning."

The generational divide has long been cause for concern in Italy. Parliament is currently examining a bill that would provide graduates with tax incentives if they stay in the country.

Nava fears that Italy will not survive in the competitive global economy if it doesn't bring its young talent into the fold.

"It could turn into a Ferrari or it could be a Fiat 500," said Nava. "If you put the young elite, the bright elite, the skilled elite at the wheel then it could turn into a Ferrari, because they know the new rules of the world, they know globalization, and so on."

"But if you put old people - or people who don't really have any merit - at the wheel then it will basically be a Fiat 500 - quite a nice car, but you can't really compete with that."

Author: Vanessa Johnston
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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