The Italian Youth’s Exodus

By Claudia Paoletti – Managing Partner Kilpatrick Executive Search

Based on the Global 50 Remuneration Planning Report by Willis Tower Watson which has compared salary schemes in 60 countries of the world, Italy regretfully ranks bottom by Western European standards.

While Switzerland comes across as the European country paying the highest salaries, also Germany and Northern European countries rank quite high. Two countries only rank lower than Italy, namely Spain and Portugal.

Over the past 5 years, 244k young Italian people have fled abroad and, quite thought-provokingly, over half of them had completed a middle-higher education.

The Italian youth no longer confine themselves to moving to nearby countries such as the UK, Switzerland which are still viewed as appealing options, but also fly to far away destinations like Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, South America, etc.

Why do the Italian youth choose to expatriate?

If, on one side, the choice is undoubtedly driven by Italy’s stagnating labour market where youths are underpaid and confront meager opportunities, on the other side the cultural urge unleashes this generation’s curiosity and desire for experimentation, the yearning to explore the world out there, meet new people and face new challenges, be they professional or personal.

We are presented with a generation, the so-called Millennials, and shortly, the Z generation, the digital, hyper-connected, tech-savvy who do not view living across borders as a scary experience but rather as a stimulus for innovating and growing up.

This generation is as assertive as to succeed in having their parents accept their ambitions and forego the temptation to clip their wings; indeed, this generation’s parents are ready to let them go and fulfil their dreams. The older generation, in fact, also welcomes the idea of travelling and is ready to make the most of globalization strengths, less worried at the idea their offspring live away from home.

But be advised: not all these people are necessarily “fleeing”. We frequently happen to intercept youths who, more often than not, love and appreciate Italy. The Millennials generation is less driven by the need and desire to possess assets such as a real estate property, a car and so on. They are more willing to spot and seize compelling professional and personal opportunities, irrespective of the location. Accordingly, young people are facilitated in breaking the bond with their home country and set off in pursuit of more gratifying career opportunities.

There is mounting evidence to show it is not a flight: as a matter of fact, the Italian youth are unlikely to leave their country to never come back. More and more often, at Kilpatrick we happen (today aided by the law promoting the comeback of brains) to “chase” and “bring back” Italian managers based abroad who, sometimes just after a few years, some other times after many years, are eager to go back and offer their expertise at home. Their profiles are particularly appealing to our clients as they have developed a multicultural mindset and, usually, a more flexible, responsive approach.

As pointed out at the outset, compared to other countries and contexts, Italy regretfully underpaying its resources, ends up as a loser upfront. The Italian youth, therefore, bear the brunt of this situation: they try hard to achieve self-fulfillment but are left with no outlets. The youth who study, get a diploma or degree, attend master courses, on-the-job training programmes end up being underpaid.If Italy gratified its youth’s aspirations and ambitions, for sure we wouldn’t be confronting the flight of young resources as massive as the present one. Nevertheless, I do not think the problem Italy has been facing is merely economic.

To the economic factor, in fact, adds on the need for a stimulating context pulling in young talents. Many Italian companies, in fact, fail to understand the needs of this generation and have not implemented any changes vs. the past. There are still too few Managers capable of understanding the youth’s language. They need leeway to experiment with their ideas, understand day by day the impact their work may have on the corporate business as well as on-going stimuli and projects vis-à-vis which putting themselves to the test by regularly measuring their performance. The Italian youth who realize they cannot find the right context and the right remuneration keeping them satisfied, do not think it over twice and look elsewhere.

While, on one side their “flight” is driven by the lack of opportunities in their home country, on the other side it is also an indicator for cultural vibrancy pushing the Italian youth to face personal and professional challenges across borders.

Nevertheless, the figures at hand are worrisome: every year thousands of young Italians emigrate abroad leaving people like us to find and recruit new skills abroad, especially when it comes to specific roles.