A university degree is no longer an arrival point, new expectations and job searches on apps and platforms
We all remember that day: the decisive degree, obtained by writing a dissertation on the control systems in a small textile company, and the festive celebrations with lots of friends. The graduation day symbolically meant the end of our school education – which had generally lasted for 16-18 years. From entering primary school to receiving a university degree certificate, which we framed and put on display in our bedroom. “This is the end of your studies; now it is time to work”, told us our uncle during the celebration lunch at home, sanctioning the end of our course of study and training the beginning of our working life.
After the celebrations, we started a frantic job search, being aware that we were expected to work 30-35 years before retirement. No one, even at university, told us how to search for a job, but we asked lots of questions to graduates who had already got a job. We sent the first emails of our life. We looked for close-by jobs, requiring maximum one hour commuting, and took our father as an example: 30 years spent within the same company, loyal to a mothering organization that looked after you as long as you payed respect to rules and hierarchies and made your contribution. In turn, the “mother” company payed respectable salaries and guaranteed an ironclad retirement plan and four week holidays. We hoped to obtain pay rises alongside the intense, often overheated, negotiations made between company and trade unions every year, and estimated that we could get to earn one and a half million liras within 5 years.
Our real mother, meanwhile, was a housewife: one salary was enough to support a family, provided that we didn’t do anything unreasonable: going out for a pizza or a movie once in a while, two weeks on the seaside in the summer. The family managed to save some money every month, while the mortgage decreased, and could buy a second-hand car every 5 years, generally a Fiat or an Alfa Romeo. Italy grew by 4-5% a year, and China was seen as a far-away country holding a population of about 5 million people, generally very poor. We used to look at North America as the role model and Japan for its management and quality theories. We all talked about Toyota, despite not having been there, or about Michael Porter, despite never having read him.
After 2 or 3 months, you most certainly got a job, especially if you were a newly-graduate and obtained high grades. How? Generally, though connections. We used to wait for the job advertisement insert published on Il Corriere della Sera each Friday; later La Repubblica and Il Sole 24 Ore also introduced similar inserts. Students circled job offers in red on Second Hand and found part-time jobs which were often paid miserable fares; yet, they applied anyway to make some experience. Then, after having hand-written a lot of letters, some organizations called for an interview. Some companies used to look at your calligraphy to make an assessment, others put you in front of a computer to see whether you coped with it.
English language was only requested by international organizations. Italian companies were more concerned to know whether you were a trouble-maker rather than a person used to travel and who had a good knowledge of foreign languages. The final grades counted much more than showing intellectual curiosity. The fact that you could be involved in other activities such as volunteer jobs or politics was regarded as a reason for distraction. Then, we started working and gaining a basic but guaranteed salary, and we literally became employees of that particular company. There was a trial period first, but, once we passed it, we felt safe as long as we kept loyal to the company and worked hard.
Phones: we all had one on our office desk and it rarely happened that our boss called us at home. All the team people used to work in the same office space, and, once out of the office, nobody was going to be disturbed. Back at home, somebody pointed out that we smelled of smoke, as smoking in the office was absolutely normal. If you opened a window to let some clean air in the office, your colleagues looked at you with disapproval. Like today, head hunters jealously stored names of potential candidates and customer companies, and, by acting mysteriously, aimed at increasing their seductive power and market value. Nobody ever pronounced or even thought about the word “diversity”, and most employees regarded their regional dialect as a second language instead of English or French. No other languages were taken into account.
In the company canteen, we ate badly but we were served red wine in small bottles; alternatively, you could have a sandwich standing at a bar next to the office. Nobody knew what Sushi was. We used to keep a public telephone token in our pocket for any eventualities, until the first big technological shift occurred: the introduction of five thousand liras phone cards. A few months after we started a new job, our boss, who worked next door, enrolled us for a company course where a retired professor, a boss’ good friend, illustrated 20-years-old notions using slides. Every two or three months, a new employee turned up, which was easily recognizable by the puzzled look, the red tie and the polished shoes.
A university degree: few friends participating in the event but 300 messages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, in addition to photos on Instagram. In a short while, once reached the end of their studies, people realise they will never get respectable retirement benefits and they are not at all sure whether they will get one in 40 years. So, they decide to go abroad or are ready to move in order to get a job. Many have already managed to develop a successful business idea. They look for a job on apps or digital platforms, and make interviews through Skype.
Many choose to be self-employed and prefer facing occupational hazards rather than becoming employees, having in mind how friends and relatives ended up losing their job. They believe in justice but not in the way it is administered. They are aware that, if they had a chance of being hired, the employment would probably last for 2 or 3 years, certainly not all their life. They know that although the “piece of paper” gave great satisfaction to their mother, they will have to keep studying and learning all their life. Fascinated by technology, they love being connected from 7 o’clock in the morning to midnight and would rather give up food than internet connection. They don’t really mind the effects of artificial intelligence but rather care about how they can find opportunities for personal growth.
They cannot conceive the notion of a working week but manage very well to stick to their computer for 80 hours a week if engaged on something interesting. They don’t read much but check Facebook 30 times a day, assessing their happiness on the number of likes they get on the photos they posted. They seem to be unconcerned about their online reputation, at least until they happen to know the difficulties a friend had to cope with by putting silly photographs on his profile. They don’t earn much and are not paid regularly; sometimes they have difficulties in making over-three-months-long plans. They know English and are good at programming and coding. They don’t have a vision of the future but hope it will turn out better, getting a respectable job that will give them some money and the possibility to change a world they don’t understand. They know they have great potential and hope to meet somebody who will trust them. In the meanwhile, they keep checking their smartphone.
(Translated by Cecilia Braghin)