SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

WORKING IN ITALY

OPINION: Why a ‘posto fisso’ work contract is still the Italian dream

What type of job do Italy's graduates dream of landing? For many, being employed by the state is the ultimate goal. Silvia Marchetti explains what's behind the intense competition for 'posto fisso' jobs in the public sector.

Man carrying a business satchel
For many Italians being employed by the state is the ultimate life goal, but why is that so? Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

The dream of many Italians is to secure a permanent job contract either in the public or private sector – preferably in the public sector – and I know this fixation baffles many foreigners. 

There is a widespread belief, based on reality, that once you are a public employee hardly anything could cause you to lose your job.

The public sector is preferred to the private simply because it guarantees a more stable, secure life-long job that makes families confident about their future, and able to look ahead with optimism and make plans.

The state doesn’t usually fire employees (unless you do something extremely bad), and even the private sector decides layoffs only if there are very sound reasons, because contracts and trade unions protect employees.

There is an obsession in Italy with the so-called posto fisso, meaning a permanent job, even if the workforce has to migrate across the country.

READ ALSO: What to know about getting an Italian work permit in 2023

The fact that this type of job is the dream of most freshly graduated young people has a lot to do with family education and mentality.

Many Italian parents educate their children on the life-mission of securing a posto fisso, a bit like marrying, buying a house and having kids. And so children grow up with this ultimate goal in their mind, and the belief that having a permanent job with all the benefits, the paid pension schemes, paid holidays, sickness days and severance pay would make their life perfect.

Historic post office building in Italy

A permanent job contract in the public sector is the dream of many Italian graduates. Photo by Sara Cudanov on Unsplash

It would give them total security, and is seen like stare in una botte di ferro (literally meaning “being in an iron barrel”).

Italy has one of the world’s highest rates of spending on social security (second only to France, according to the OECD), and each year more resources are earmarked. This has also impacted on the approach towards work. Everyone wants a slice of the (public) pie.

It still astonishes me listening to many young people chatting on the beach about securing that permanent job, even if it’s not what they like, but they have already calculated what they will be earning over the years, and what their pension would likely be.

Italians generally don’t have much of an entrepreneurial spirit of ‘let’s live life, and work, as an adventure’. There’s a bit of a negativity around going freelance or registering as self-employed, becoming a libero professionista, for it is seen as scary and yielding a highly unstable and insecure future solely based on what you earn, which is really never a fixed amount each month.

Unlike abroad, Italian parents don’t all support libera professione (self-employment) and most would rather see their kids settle down with a safe job contract. Remote workers and freelancers are often looked down upon compared to those with a posto fisso, as if there existed an intangible work hierarchy made of unreachable privileges.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will Italy follow Spain in introducing a digital nomad visa?

Many friends of mine got the long-coveted posto fisso because their parents were retiring and managed to exchange their retirement with a permanent job for their kid within the same firm or public body.

Police, nurse, firefighter, teacher and public administration jobs are the most wanted, because they’re for life. To get kicked out you must do something very horrible because the type of contract secures your position.

It doesn’t matter what it takes to land a posto fisso. Many friends of mine had to relocate to other cities, either in the very north, or in the very south, to be able to later find a permanent job in Rome, for instance as a middle school teacher.

There was one lady who, in order to teach on her native island off Rome’s coast where she lived, had to go all the way to work in a Basilicata school to get the job she wanted 10 years later on her home island.

Sometimes freshly-hired young people have to commute for hundreds of kilometres per day just to work fuori sede (out of the area) for a few years before landing a position in their own province.

Train station in Rome, Italy

Young Italian graduates often have to commute for hundreds of kilometres every day just to work. Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

A scuba diver friend of mine who works in the fire brigade toured nine northern cities in order to finally settle down in his native Sicily where he could put to use his diving skills in deep Sicilian waters, rather than climbing frozen trees in Treviso to rescue cats.

Public jobs come with huge ‘competitions’ (concorsi pubblici) with thousands of applicants for just a few hundred, or less, available places. The numbers are impressive because the state must allow everyone who meets the required criteria to participate – but then just the lucky ones make it through, and then they often end up on waiting lists anyway.

READ ALSO: The jobs in Italy that will be most in demand in 2023

Every time I pass a major Carabinieri military police station in Rome I see young people lined up for exams and they really have miserable faces, having traveled probably hundreds of miles that same day.

State exams for qualified professions such as lawyers are also massive in terms of applicants. The cost to the state is relatively low compared to the time and money applicants must waste on taking part, given that they often have to pay to access state exams.

But there’s also the other side of the coin: exploiting ‘geography’ can come in handy. Surprisingly, attending a state exam to become a lawyer in certain remote southern regions where there are few applicants, thus less competition and easier tests, increases the chances of passing those exams.

Many people I know who failed the state exam for law in Rome after three consecutive attempts eventually passed it in deepest Molise or Abruzzo. They then went back to Rome or Milan to work in some fancy attorney office.

I don’t think Italians will ever get over the posto fisso obsession – unless merit and entrepreneurship are more effectively supported with targeted policies.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

PROPERTY

Tuscany or Basilicata? How Italy’s international property market is changing

From typical budgets to preferred locations and property types, Silvia Marchetti looks at how the profile of the average foreign buyer looking for a slice of Italian life has changed over the years.

Tuscany or Basilicata? How Italy's international property market is changing

Nearly 20 years ago, I remember when Tuscany was dubbed ‘the Tuscanshire of Italy’ in honour of all the wealthy Brits (and Americans, too) who had bought luxury farmsteads and castelletti amid cypress-lined paths and green rolling hills. Singer Sting had purchased a villa there alongside other VIPs and European royals.

Then, some 10 years later a new trend emerged: ‘Tuscanshire’ turned into ‘Abruzzoshire’, with local press talking up the arrival of English-speaking expats who wanted to live their Italian dream in a wilder, albeit poorer and more remote, region roamed by sheep, wolves and bears.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

There’s been a significant change in the profile of foreign home buyers in Italy, from high-end to middle-class.

Before it was usually well-off people that relocated from abroad to Tuscany and Umbria spending tons of money for castles and mansions, or luxury attics in big cities. Some still do, but they like to keep a low profile.

Surprisingly, many top destinations are now down south. I was rather shocked by the latest real estate report issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate, Italy’s tax authority: in 2022 the region of Basilicata had the second-most home purchases in Italy, after Lombardy.

Even though the report does not clarify how many of these purchases were made by foreigners, local Basilicata mayors who have launched projects to lure new residents say it is very likely that over 80 percent of the new buyers came from abroad.

A view of vineyards are pictured in the autumn colors on November 2, 2011 in Monti Di Sopra, Tuscany.

Tuscany has long been the dream location, but many foreign buyers are now looking further afield. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

This is for the simple fact that Italian families leave, every year, Basilicata, Molise and parts of Calabria in search of a brighter future elsewhere. Depopulation in the south, alongside low birth rates, remain problems which local authorities are trying to fight by appealing to foreign home buyers.

IN MAPS: How Italy’s property prices vary by region

While in the past it was all about the rich who flocked to Liguria, Sardinia and Emilia Romagna to enjoy their beach-side mansions, now it’s mostly middle class or lower-income foreign nationals who make global headlines, lured by the rural appeal of depopulated southern villages, or retirees who crave for a cheaper lifestyle under the sultry Calabrian sun, close to the sea.

This trend has mostly been triggered by a series of measures that the town halls of these ‘dying’ villages have put in place, from ‘one euro‘ to cheap turnkey homes, ‘baby bonuses’ for families willing to relocate, tax breaks, lower bills and financial aid for starting a new business.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes

But it is not only due to such schemes. Life is cheaper in many parts in Italy compared to anywhere else in the world, and this is most true particularly in small villages, even northern ones.

In the Alpine hamlet of Carrega Ligure, on the border between Piedmont and Liguria, old farmer homes are on sale starting at 10,000 euros.

Council officials in the village of Carrega Ligure have tried to sell off abandoned properties at low prices. Credit: Comune di Carrega Ligure

Retired foreigners with a modest pension end up saving a lot of money embracing the rural idyll, even in villages close to Rome. In the hamlet of Capena close to the Tiber River, a two-bedroom apartment in the medieval center costs about 30.000 euros. Such convenient prices tend to lure not just retired couples but also millennial teleworkers on a budget.

What is staying the same however is the high-end, ultra-wealthy segment of buyers of luxury villas and studios who still crave Italy’s two top cities.

Lombardy, with Milan as its capital, leads the way ahead of Rome. According to a survey by luxuryestate.com, a partner of Italian property site immobiliare.it, 9 percent of all super-rich European buyers looking for a lavish apartment in Italy pick Milan, while 8 percent choose Rome.

In Milan, nearly 30 percent come from the UK, while 20 percent are Swiss. I met a rich Belgian family in Brussels once who said they had bought a panoramic attic overlooking the Duomo to use just for ‘parachute shopping’ when they’d hop on a plane for the weekend to ransack the Fashion Quadrangle.

OPINION: Bargain homes and fewer crowds – but Italy’s deep south is not for everyone

Such clients want turnkey mansions with no need of renovation work, not even minimal fixes – totally the opposite from those who buy cheap homes in the rural south and often end up renovating them on their own.

I think this gap between ‘rich city home buyers’ and ‘middle class rural fixer-uppers’ is bound to widen as inflation keeps rising and the spending power of the less wealthy will drop further.

While Italy’s big cities will always represent an eternal dream of glamour, a status symbol for the wealthy, small southern villages and rural spots by contrast offer the perfect compromise for a financially sustainable Italian lifestyle.

See more in The Local’s property section.

SHOW COMMENTS