Unfilled jobs spark heated debate in Italy

ROME (AFP) - A business owner has sparked a heated row in Italy over the paradox of record youth unemployment and thousands of unfilled vacancies, claiming that young Italians are too laid-back for the job market.

Plastics manufacturer Giovanni Pagotto has said he is only hiring immigrants and complained Italian applicants were not "hungry" enough, comparing this to his own humble beginnings working on the factory floor.

Mr Pagotto, from the region near Venice, said one applicant wanted a three-month delay before starting the job to take a driving test, while another turned up to the interview with his mother for moral support.

His comments have caused widespread anger - from trade union leaders to the many young people who say their job searches are constantly frustrated - but some experts point out he might have a point.

The unemployment rate is over 12 percent and the proportion is much higher at 39.1 percent for active 15-24-year-olds who are not in school or university.

But some sectors - from pizza makers to engineering, from craftsmen to sales - complain they are unable to find enough applicants to fill their many vacancies.

"It is true that younger generations have excessively high expectations about their professional future," said Daniele Marini, director of the Nord Est Foundation, a social and economic think tank.

But he also said there should be "no generalisations" and pointed out that businesses were not offering enough apprenticeships and training, and that the education system was failing to prepare young people.

The debate is similar to the one unleashed last year when then prime minister Mario Monti was criticised for saying job-for-life contracts were "monotonous".

His labour minister Elsa Fornero added oil to the fire when she said young Italians were too "choosy".

A study by Unioncamere, an association bringing together Italy's chambers of commerce, found Italy is particularly lacking in economists, managers, engineers, mathematicians and sales people.

It said 12 percent of vacancies in these sectors are unfilled, as well as pointing to a lack of personnel in the catering business and cleaning work.

Another report by the Studi Consulenti foundation said there were 150,000 jobs that were being "snubbed by Italians" including tailoring, baking and building.

A restaurant association earlier this year even complained that the homeland of pizza is badly lacking in people who can prepare the dish - with some 6,000 vacancies going for "pizzaioli".

Dario Di Vico, a columnist for the top-selling Corriere della Sera daily, said the figures highlight a "real paradox because the supply and demand of jobs are not aligning" in Italy.

But bloggers writing for the Il Fatto Quotidiano and Linkiesta websites said the reports were a type of "anti-crisis" propaganda orchestrated by a political class lacking in solutions.

The government has set youth unemployment as its top priority and earlier this month parliament unblocked nearly 800 million euros (S$1.37 billion) to increase job security, help start-ups and boost traineeships.

But Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini this week admitted that a lot remains to be done and youth joblessness remains a "major challenge" in the eurozone's third largest economy.

"Many young people are getting discouraged and are no longer looking for work. Only 17 percent of young Italians aged 15 to 24 are employed - compared to 30.2 percent in Europe," Mr Giovannini said.