Analysis: Skills shortage in southern Italy could hamper recovery

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  • Italy set to receive biggest share of EU funds
  • Government hopes money will help poorer southerners close the gap
  • Mayors warn that skills shortage is hurting project management
  • The South has lost 28% of its public officials in 10 years

BARI, Italy, Nov. 25 (Reuters) – Mayors in poor southern Italy should be happy to receive billions of euros from the European Union‘s recovery fund in the event of a pandemic, but a shortfall expertise in project management could mean that they will not be able to take full advantage of the scheme.

Italy hopes to receive € 191.5 billion ($ 215.5 billion) in grants and loans from the € 750 billion prize pool over five years, the largest recipient among the 27 EU states .

Focused on the green transition, digitization, education and sustainable infrastructure, the recovery and resilience fund could help modernize the Italian economy through thousands of projects, especially in the less developed south.

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“This represents a unique and extraordinary opportunity for us,” said Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, during a government tour promoting the program.

“But in order not to lose this chance, we need qualified people quickly to get these projects off the ground.”

Other mayors said they also lack qualified staff to develop, manage and monitor the projects they want to move forward.

Leoluca Orlando, who runs Palermo, Sicily’s main city, said he only had one technical official authorized to sign EU project bids, while Gaetano Manfredi, the mayor of the largest southern city, Naples, said it did not have a technical manager.

“It’s an absurd situation,” Orlando told Reuters.

The south represents a little more than 30% of the Italian population and a little more than 20% of the national economic production, and the gap with the center and the north is widening. To help him catch up, he should receive 40% of EU funds from Italy.

The years of budgetary austerity following the financial crisis of 2008 have particularly weighed on the administrations of the South already in debt, forcing them to reduce their staff.

According to a study by the Bank of Italy, the number of public sector employees in the south fell by 27.8% in 2008-2018 against a drop of 18.5% in the north, which traditionally has a better record. management of its resources.

ACCELERATED DROP

The shortage of qualified personnel is already being felt.

Last month, Sicily’s hastily presented 31 proposals for irrigation projects were rejected because they did not meet demanding EU criteria.

Antonino Scilla, who heads the agriculture department on the Mediterranean island, told Reuters the strict deadlines were partly to blame, but a general lack of expertise was hurting his region.

“Sicily has shortcomings. It needs qualified personnel … We need a change of generation. The average age of (state) employees here is 60, we need 30 , new graduates, “he said.

The Mezzogiorno, or “noon” as the south is called in Italian, has lagged behind the rest of the country for decades, but the divide has accelerated during this century.

The gross domestic product per capita is about 40% lower in the south than in the center-north, while unemployment stands at 16.7% compared to 6.1% in the north. Youth unemployment is 43.3% against 20.8%.

The government hopes the EU fund will increase Italian production by 3.6% by 2026, with significant advances expected in the south.

But Brussels has expressed concern over the region, which has a poor record of spending regular EU structural funds.

“The role of local authorities in the implementation of the recovery plan is a potential weak point,” said Marco Buti, chief of staff to European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentiloni.

“If you look mainly at the south of the country, there is a natural bottleneck,” he said during a visit to Italy this week, citing the lack of experienced managers.

ATTRACTING TALENT

Bari currently has some 1,800 public sector employees, around 1,000 less than predicted by the city’s staffing plan, while Manfredi said he believes Naples needs at least 1,000 employees. moreover to take full advantage of the proposed European funds.

“We know that skills are scarce,” Innovation Minister Vittorio Colao told dignitaries and businessmen during the government roadshow, which was held in a crowded theater in Bari.

“As a ministry we can help partially, but it is impossible to think that we can do it all. What I hope is that businesses and local communities pool their resources.”

Roberto Garofoli, in charge of implementing the national stimulus plan, told the Bari hearing that small teams would be dispatched by various state agencies to help manage the projects.

The government has also pledged to hire 2,800 people in the south to work on programs.

A first call for tenders, however, attracted only 800 qualified candidates, with many professionals complaining that short-term contracts paid around 1,500 euros per month were not attractive given the skills required.

The government is revising the conditions.

“The administrative machine is worn out and lost in expertise,” Garofoli said. “This is a problem we inherited not from the previous government, but from decades of spending cuts. It’s a huge problem that you can’t fix in a matter of months.”

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Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene in Florence; Editing by Catherine Evans

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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