The VET system and the education and training situation in Italy

VET, Vocational Education, and Training. That is vocational education and training. It is one of the pillars to guarantee to the more and more complex European societies innovative tools to face innovations, changes, challenges, gaining ground in terms of employment and rights instead of losing it.



What it is

With the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, the member states and their national education and training systems were called upon to embark on a highly innovative pathway, based on the common need to enhance and renew the professional skills of citizens in order to respond more adequately and effectively to market demands and to increase Europe’s level of competitiveness.
The VET (Vocational Education and Training) system includes all vocational education and training pathways, i.e. those that lead to recognisable qualifications that can be used to enter the labour market and the professions, and corresponds to our system of vocational education and training, even though in our country it is not a single system, but rather a fragmented area divided into various subsystems: vocational education, technical education, vocational training, apprenticeship, higher education, continuing and ongoing training. This training area is the focus of the European Union’s attention. In particular, it refers to the “Education and Training 2010” work programme launched following the 2000 Lisbon European Council, which affirmed the commitment to ensure that young people acquire, by the age of 18, a vocational qualification, following the commitments made in Lisbon, must correspond at least to the second European level.

The European Union has sought to provide guidelines to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new economy, with a view, among other things, to eradicating the social scourge of unemployment, by indicating four basic perspectives: improving employability; attaching greater importance to lifelong learning; increasing employment in the services sector, a source of new jobs; promoting equal opportunities in all respects.

The Italian Framework

The Vet in Italy encompasses a number of features. First, the ministries of education and labour set the rules and general principles but the regions and autonomous provinces are responsible for the vocational training and apprenticeship programmes. Second, there are three types of apprenticeship with one type not corresponding to any level of education but only leading to vocational qualifications recognised by the labour market. Third, continuous Vet is mainly aimed at employees. Fourth, the recent adoption of the National Qualifications Framework (January 2018) is a catalyst for the redesign of qualifications.

So, as we have seen, the Italian context is characterised by the presence of several institutional actors at the national and regional levels, in addition to the relevant role of social partners. As a matter of fact, the State lays down the general rules and determines the fundamental principles of education; the regions have legislative power over Vet; education falls within the scope of concurrent legislation, except for the autonomy of educational institutions.

In the light of the intertwining of the different areas of intervention, the Ministries of Education and Labour and the Regions define formal agreements within the State-Regions Conference. The aim is to define issues of common interest, albeit at different levels of responsibility.

Since the implementation of Title V has not yet been completed, the intertwining and complexity of the different levels of governance of the system are growing. For this reason, the areas of activity that are primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and those that are primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and the Regions and Autonomous Provinces should be kept distinct. However, many activities and interventions require consultation between the different institutional actors.

Challenges for the Vet-system in Italy

The system in Italy is facing several challenges and problems. First of all, integrating the training and employment of young people within a dual system by reinforcing apprenticeships; reinforcing apprenticeships for training and higher education; simplifying the current regulations and reinforcing the attractiveness of apprenticeships for businesses. Other challenges are the development of innovative pedagogical methodologies; reducing early drop-outs from education and training; training teachers and trainers; promoting the assessment of education and training outcomes through the implementation of a national plan for quality assurance in education and training and in line with the European reference framework. Challenges include training of staff involved in all phases and procedures of validation of non-formal and informal learning; increasing public awareness of the potential benefits of validation of non-formal and informal learning, especially for those target groups who could benefit most from it; improving the cost-effectiveness of validation of non-formal and informal learning procedures; improving the monitoring of Vet results and adapting Vet provision to the training needs of each learner; developing analytical evaluation tools on the impact of training policies.

Challenges in the vocational training system

There are also numerous challenges specific to continuing vocational training. For example, to further develop existing skills forecasting tools and methods and to better match training provision to skills needs; to support workers’ participation in training, remove obstacles that prevent them from training and motivate the most vulnerable workers, particularly the low-skilled and those over 50 to participate in training activities; improve the capacity of training providers to offer programmes that improve technological and in particular digital skills; strengthen the involvement of the social partners in company decisions on training; consolidate the certification of skills acquired through continuing vocational training; improve coordination and networking between the various stakeholders involved in lifelong learning at the national and regional level.

Italy and the contribution of the VET system

The Italian picture shows that, in 2018, the population was over 60 million (60,483,973). This number is the result of a 1.3 per cent increase since 2013 thanks to immigration. As in many other EU countries, the population is ageing and the elderly population is expected to increase from 34 in 2015 to 61 in 2060. As can be expected, demographic trends have an impact on the school population, which decreased between September 2014 and June 2015, especially at the lower secondary level (by 0.7%). During the same period, the secondary school population increased by 0.8%, including both Italian (+0.6%) and foreign (+2.8%) learners.

Since 2007, immigration has been a prevailing factor in population growth. In 2016, the rate halved, while emigration almost tripled. The share of foreign learners increased by 20.9% between 2009/10 and 2014/15 (from 673,592 to 814,187), compared to a 2.7% decrease in Italian learners (from 8,283,493 to 8,058,397). The share of foreign female students was 48%.

In 2014-2015, 55.3% of learners of foreign nationality were born in Italy (84.8% in pre-school). In 2015, 7.3% of foreign learners reported repeating one or more school years, especially those not born in Italy (31%). Foreign students often have lower grades in secondary education programmes.

In Italy, education has a high value. However, the share of the population up to 64 years old with higher education (19.3%) is lower than the EU28 average (32.2%). This is also true for the share of the population up to 64 years with medium or low qualifications. In Italy, there are contradictions in the relationship between the education and training system and the production system. An example is the scarce presence of qualified labour in the productive system, mainly due to the still rather low number of graduates compared to other European countries.

Possession of a higher education qualification does not seem to have a significant effect on the probability of finding a good job match. Moreover, over-education is associated with both lower labour productivity and lower job satisfaction. In this respect, the number of 14-year-olds who choose to enrol in vocational education and training (VET) as an option that would allow a better match of skills to jobs is significant, as the figure below shows.

Economic and labour market context in Italy

From the economic point of view, there were 16,684,518 employees in a total of 4,390,911 enterprises. Micro enterprises, those with 0 to 9 employees, accounted for 95.2%, SMEs (10-49 employees), 4.2%, medium-sized enterprises (50-249 employees), 0.5% and large enterprises (250 and more employees), 0.1%.

The main economic sectors in Italy are machinery and equipment; metalworking
electronics and components; chemicals; textiles; furniture; food and beverages; construction; wholesale and retail trade; accommodation and food service activities; transport and logistics; information and communication; financial and insurance activities.

Exports are very important for Italy and include several sectors, mainly machinery and equipment, textiles, furniture, transport equipment and vehicles, metal processing, food and beverages, electronics and components and others.

The sectors most closely linked to Vet are electronics and components, information and communications, financial and insurance activities, machinery and equipment, means of transport and vehicles, and chemicals.

The big sore point for Italy is unemployment. In 2018, total unemployment stood at 9.3%, up 3.7 percentage points since 2008. Unemployment is unevenly distributed among people with low and high-level qualifications. The gap widened during the sovereign debt crisis as unskilled workers are more vulnerable to unemployment. The employment rate of Vet graduates aged 20-34 increased from 62.7% in 2014 to 66% in 2018. The increase (+3.3 pp) in the employment of Vet graduates aged 20-34 in 2014-18 was lower than the increase in the employment of all graduates aged 20-34 (+3.7 pp) over the same period in Italy.


Giulia Torbidoni – TIA Formazione