Executive summary

Action on the adult learning front 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. Today there are 3.5 older persons (65+) for every ten working age adults (15-64) – the highest rate in the OECD after Japan. Finally, 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 technological change, longer working lives and the increased skill demands of a knowledge-based economy, many adults will need training to keep skills up to date. However, the Italian adult learning system seems to be ill prepared to face these challenges. Today, only two in ten adults participate in job-related training, about half the OECD average. Moreover, only 60.2% of firms (with at least 10 employees) provide training to their workers, lower than the OECD European average of 76%.

Training Funds represent one important tool through which Italy could face the pressures brought about by the mega-trends, and equip adults and workers with the skills needed to thrive in the labour market and society. Instituted in the early 2000s, today Training Funds cover almost 1 million firms and over 10 million workers, and manage more than EUR 600 million a year, representing one of the most important sources of financing for workers’ continuous learning in Italy.

Since their inception, Training Funds have encouraged many firms to train their workers, and have certainly contributed to improve access to training opportunities. However, there are challenges. SMEs still face substantial barriers in adhering to/using Training Funds, and many vulnerable groups – such as the low-skilled, low-wage workers or older people – are often excluded from the training opportunities offered.

Moreover, training is not always of good quality and aligned to the needs of the labour market. Indeed, Training Funds are often used to finance compulsory training, such as occupational health and safety, rather than focussing on developing the skills that could enhance the competitiveness of firms and the productivity of workers.

What is more, in recent years, Training Funds have been the object of significant budget curtailments by the government, raising concerns on the financial adequacy and sustainability of the system.

Finally, another key challenge is that often Training Funds work in silos, with scattered coordination efforts taking place among Training Funds themselves and with other actors involved in adult learning.

To ensure that Training Funds are put to their most effective use, the OECD recommends to:

  • Increase training participation among SMEs and vulnerable workers, for example by fostering a learning culture among SMEs; further reducing red tape and training costs for SMEs; training entrepreneurs; and putting in place targeted initiatives to ensure that training reaches disadvantaged groups.

  • Align training to the skills needed in the labour market, for example by strengthening the involvement of social partners in training decisions; making better use of skills assessment and anticipation exercises; helping firms and workers to understand their training needs; and forbidding the use of Training Funds for compulsory training.

  • Ensure that training is of good quality, for example by streamlining quality-monitoring procedures; strengthening skills certification; fostering a healthy competitive environment among Training Funds; strengthening the information system; and evaluating the impact of training more systematically.

    • Enhance coordination among different actors, for example by setting up a National Observatory on Adult Learning; formalising the coordination between Training Funds; and setting up complementary policies to develop a learning-friendly environment.

    • Ensure that Training Funds receive adequate and sustainable funding, by minimising governments’ withdrawals for purposes other than training. Moreover, the levy rate could be increased (at the national level or through collective agreements) and the additional rate could be made refundable with a view to contain firms’ labour costs.

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