Sicily: a country for young people?

Simone Piceno

Expert in entrepreneurship

The millennials (born between the mid 1980s and the late 1990s) are starting to realize that their life paths will be different than the one taken by their parents, the baby boomers. Their ambitions were hit hard by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and their life will be affected by the growing environmental crisis, which calls into questions lots of issues that were taken for granted by previous generations. Some millennials will benefit from this changing world and manage to create new ways of living and working. Others will suffer from the circumstances and stay behind, because of their socio-economical conditions, their migratory background, their geographical situation or their gender.

The young people affected the most by social downgrading are called the NEETs: Neither in Employment nor in Education or Training. In Sicily, they represent 38,6% of the population, according to the 2018 Istat data[1]. The difference between Sicily and the rest of Italy (being 19,5% in the Central region and 15.5% in the North) as well as Europe at large (16.9%) is substantial and raises important questions.

If low levels of education may explain a big share of unemployment in general, for NEETs the situation is more complex than that, especially in Sicily. Among the NEETs, 49% hold a secondary education diploma, 11% a university degree, while the remaining 40% have a lower level of education. Accordingly, one has to turn to other factors in order to understand the particular situation. In Sicily, the inefficient labour market and the complex social and economic framework are very important factors to take into account.

In 2019, Microfinanza Srl started working with the project: “YES!” financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway grants fund for youth employment, aiming at activating unemployed youth to access the labour market and promote entrepreneurship.

Young entrepreneurs succeed (YES!) is a trust-based partnership engaging eight public & private institutions from Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, and United Kingdom with wide experience promoting entrepreneurship among underemployed youth. Yes! will provide NEETs from Greece, Poland, Italy and Spain with various services to start and grow business or to find a job, such as :

  • Training
  • Coaching
  • Access to finance
  • Mentoring

In July 2019, in Palermo, we started interviewing the first potential beneficiaries – all falling under the NEET definition – who will take part in the training and coaching activities. According to the data and field research available on this category of youths, we expected to meet people with the following characteristics: low level of education; not actively looking for job; low level of “hard skills”; and, not actively trying to improve their social and economic condition.

To our great surprise, in our first group, what we found was the complete opposite. It emerged from the interviews that:

  1. More than 55% of the NEETS interviewed had a higher level of education (BA or MA). The remaining 45% had a high school diploma;
  2. All of them were actively searching a job since they completed their studies and some were ready to compromise and give up on their dream job;
  3. All of them wanted to stay in Sicily and were not searching for a job abroad;

Among them, 67% asked to be supported in the job-seeking process. The remaining 32% had an entrepreneurial idea and wanted to be sure that their ideas were good and their projects economically sustainable. We asked them why they want to become entrepreneurs and start up their business. The most common chosen answers were:

  1. “Because I believe that Sicily has not expressed its full potential and many thing can be done”
  2. “Because if this is a way to remain in Sicily while doing something I love, I’ll take the risk”
  3. “Because I want to start something that can help me and at the same time can offer job opportunities to other young people”

Most importantly, we asked them if they recognized themselves in the definition of NEET: none of them agreed. We realized that they find it almost offensive to be perceived as a NEET.

NEET is an umbrella term; it is very generic and must be used with great care. While useful for macro-level analysis, it does not fully portray the complexity of the situation. There are great variations within the NEETs: various ages, regions, levels of educations, and so on. The fact that a generic term exists does not mean that there is a single answer to the issues faced by the NEETs. As seen above, in Sicily, the causes of unemployment are very specific to the region and an initiative that would have worked in any other region could still fail to address the situation there.

Under these circumstances, it is fundamental to not force them into strict definitions or into standard training courses, but rather try to create tailor-made paths for each of them. One of the main goals of the YES! is, indeed, to make people express their own capabilities through the different phases of the project.




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