Youth unemployment rates in Italy are among the highest in the EU. In December 2010, 29 % of 15-24 year-olds were unemployed. In December 2010, Italy’s national statistics service, Istat, reported that while the overall rate of unemployment rose by 0.2 % from 2009 to 2010, the rise in youth unemployment was 12 times higher. The inactivity rate is increasing dramatically: 1 in 3 young people is not studying or working, which gives rise to several critical issues for demand and supply in the labour market.

One of the reasons for youth unemployment is the weak link between training pathways and the needs of companies, which is why the link needs to be made stronger. Over the last fifteen years Italian legislators have encouraged education and apprenticeship training by offering liberal economic incentives and regulatory measures. However, apprenticeships continue to be used as means of recruiting young people cheaply. During 2010-11, important reforms were introduced designed to provide workers with effective training and to improve the employability of young people. In October 2010, Italy’s central, regional and provincial governments, as well as the social partners, signed an agreement to relaunch the apprenticeship contract. According to the parties to the agreement, the potential of apprenticeships has yet to be adequately developed, partly because other arrangements, such as internships, are often adopted. The agreement is intended to clarify the legal and institutional aspects of apprenticeships. Its aim is to relaunch the apprenticeship contract so that it guarantees vocational training for all apprentices, encourages training in enterprises and ensures more involvement of the social actors and bilateral bodies.

The Consolidated Act on Apprenticeships - Legislative Decree No 167 of 14 September 2011 – lays down regulations defining apprenticeships as open-ended contracts aimed at training young people. Consequently, at the end of a vocational training period, if neither the employer nor the apprentice withdraws from the agreement, the employment relationship will continue and will be considered open-ended. The type and duration of the training, and also the number of apprentices that can be employed, will be determined by national collective bargaining agreements covering the relevant sectors, and by inter-sectoral agreements. However, an employer cannot hire more than one apprentice for every qualified or specialised worker. Apprentices’ pay must be at least two levels below the amount established in the national sectoral collective agreement. Alternatively, the level of pay can be established as a percentage of the full amount of remuneration. These steps are extremely important for promoting effective use of the apprenticeship contract, with a sharper focus on the training aspects (Tiraboschi, Osservatorio Isfol 2011).

The new Act includes national occupational standards, training standards and standards for the certification of skills, which the social partners, in particular, are required to apply for the design and assessment of training courses.