Adult Learning in Italy: what role for training funds?

By Alessia Forti

Action on adult learning is needed urgently in Italy. As a result of the introduction of new technologies, 15.2% of jobs have a high risk of automation, and a further 35.5% may experience significant changes to how they are performed. Italy also has an old and ageing population and around 38% of Italian adults have low levels of literacy and/or numeracy proficiency, well above the OECD average of 26.3%.

To cope with the increased skill demands of a knowledge-based economy and longer working lives during which job change and skills obsolescence may be more frequent, many adults will need training to keep skills up to date or to learn new ones. Yet, the Italian adult learning system seems to be ill prepared to face these challenges.

Today, only 20% of adults participate in job-related training in a given year, about half the OECD average. This share drops to 9.5% for low-skilled adults, who are arguably those who need training the most.

In this context, Italy’s Training Funds – associations run by social partners that finance workers’ training, using resources collected through a training levy paid by employers (0.3% of payroll) – represent one important tool to respond to changing skill needs and equip adults with the skills needed to thrive in the labour market and society.

The OECD has published a new report on “Adult Learning in Italy: what role for training funds?”. The OECD finds that, since their introduction in the early 2000s, the Training Funds have encouraged many firms to train their workers, and have certainly contributed to improve access to training opportunities. However, they still face several challenges.

The low demand for high-level skills and the lack of a learning culture in Italy relative to many other OECD countries result in little interest in the training opportunities promoted by the Training Funds, especially among Italian SMEs. On top of that, red tape and training costs remain burdensome for many SMEs.

The OECD also finds that training is not well aligned with labour market needs. Compulsory Occupational Health and Safety training represents over 30% of all training activities supported by the Funds, while ICT training accounts for just over 3%.

Structured coordination mechanisms are essential to avoid duplication of efforts and create synergies between training programmes developed by different actors. Yet, often the Training Funds work in silos, with no formal coordination efforts taking place among them or with institutions and other actors involved in adult learning (e.g. regions, public employment services).

Finally, the Training Funds require adequate and sustainable funding to function well. In recent years, Training Funds have been the object of significant budget cuts by the government, which in 2017 absorbed over 40% of the funds that were collected through the training levy. Besides reducing resources for training, these budget cuts may also affect the credibility of the Training Funds and undermine overall trust in the system.

To ensure that the Training Funds are used more effectively, the OECD recommends that action should be taken to:

  • Increase training participation among SMEs and vulnerable workers by, for example, fostering a learning culture among SMEs, training entrepreneurs, further reducing red tape and training costs for SMEs, and putting in place targeted initiatives to ensure that training reaches disadvantaged groups.
  • Align training to the skills needed in the labour market by, for example, strengthening the involvement of social partners in training decisions, making better use of skills assessment and anticipation exercises, and forbidding the use of Training Funds for compulsory training.
  • Enhance coordination among different actors by, for example, setting up a National Observatory on Adult Learning that coordinates the activities of the different actors involved in adult learning.
  • Ensure that Training Funds receive adequate and sustainable funding, by minimising governments’ withdrawals for purposes other than training.

This work was prepared with the support of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation

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