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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.

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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.

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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.

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For members


OPINION: The ‘Italian dream’ – Why so many move to Italy for a brighter future

Over the years Italians have fled their country looking for a brighter future but so many Americans and Britons head the other way in search of their 'Italian dream', writes Silvia Marchetti. Share your own views below.

OPINION: The 'Italian dream' - Why so many move to Italy for a brighter future

Centuries ago and up until the 1970s, Italian families often left their home country in search of a brighter future elsewhere, running towards what has always been the ‘American’, or Western, dream of a better standard of living.

But for some people, this migration trend seems to have been turned upside down.

I’ve spoken to many Americans and Brits who have relocated to Italy who believe that both the UK and America are collapsing and now unaffordable. In their view, nothing works anymore, life is too expensive, and importantly so is healthcare. 

It struck me how they seem to have found here in Italy the sort of dream that many Italian emigrants searched for in the past across the Atlantic Ocean, or up in northern Europe beyond the English Channel. It’s as if we’re in a topsy-turvy ‘new world’.

Scottish-American couple Sandy and Keith Webster, both retirees in their sixties, ditched “expensive” London in 2012 and moved to the remote village of Irsina, in deepest Basilicata, where they bought a gorgeous, multi-storey old dwelling with a panoramic balcony overlooking the old town.

Although they prefer not to disclose how much the house cost them, they say the renovation alone, which cost four times as much as the purchase, would have been one million dollars back in the US.

They say their rural Italian lifestyle is also much healthier, slower-paced and cheaper. Their pensions allow them to maintain a high living standard in a place where costs are relatively low.

The rural southern Italian region of Basilicata is popular among retirees and second-home owners. Photo by Guseppe CACACE / AFP

“We go out more often to eat at restaurants than when we lived in London, tour around the region, Italy, and Europe,” Sandy, who hails from California, tells The Local.

“We buy fresh food at the farmers market and eat healthily, go on long walks, visit the nearby beaches whenever we feel like it. The village life is relaxing and we feel part of a tight-knit community.”

Had the couple stayed in London to live out their retirement years, Keith says they would not have been able to maintain the same standards of living they can instead afford in Irsina, where multiple-course meals can cost just €30 per person at local restaurants. 

The only less idyllic aspect, say the Websters, is that they miss eating non-Italian food occasionally, given Mexican, Chinese and other foreign restaurants are lacking. “We just have a more limited choice, but we love Italian food”, says Wendy. 

David Greene, a graphic designer who works remotely from the village of Ronciglione in the Lazio region, says he escaped the UK just in time before Brexit. He was born in Chicago but moved to the UK as a teenager with his parents, and voted Remain having deep pro-European feelings. 

In the UK “everything was falling to pieces, not just politically,” he says

“My mortgage was £800 per month, instead here I pay only €300 monthly rent for a lovely condo overlooking the valley.

“Plus, I managed to take up Italian residency, public healthcare is very efficient, and also the cost of private doctors, appointments, and examinations in Italy are very reasonable.”

David says he pays €150 euros per month in electricity and gas bills for his two-bedroom Italian home, and has a cleaner who costs him €50 a week, when he could never afford this service back in the UK.

He spends roughly €80 on food weekly at a nearby supermarket, and takes public transport to get to Rome and around Lazio on a ticket costing €24 a week.

One of the many Americans flocking to southern Italian villages is Amy Clarke, a 50-year-old writer from New York. 

Last year, she moved to the fishing village of Sperlonga, a popular summer destination among Romans. She bought a dazzling white one-bedroom apartment of 50 square metres in the old town, tucked away in a quiet alley, for €70,000 and says a similar-sized home would have cost her nearly one million dollars in New York.

“Sperlonga may not be among the cheapest towns in Italy, given it is coastal with lots of stunning beaches. Nonetheless, I spend just €150 per week for groceries and food, and have more than enough money to dine out six times a month,” she says.

The Italian seaside town of Sperlonga. Photo by Christianna Martin on Unsplash

“I buy fresh melons, tomatoes, premium olives, porcini mushrooms and local extra virgin olive oil at the farmers market, one litre costs just €10. In New York, an orange costs more than a dollar and Italian EVO? Forget it. In the US it has always been way above my budget,” she adds.

Amy, who is single, says another reason why she decided to abandon the States was the “increasing violence, the preponderance to guns with  a school shooting almost every week, and the political mayhem which was making the US a very divisive country” to live in.

Funnily enough, Amy’s grandmother came from Naples and migrated to New York as a kid, where she then met her American husband, Amy’s grandpa.

“Gran is probably turning in her grave,” says Amy. “She escaped Naples for a better life overseas, chasing the American dream. 

“Well, I have escaped the US chasing the dolce vita dream. Italy is my New World.”

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Perhaps your ‘Italian dream’ didn’t quite work out that way? If you’d like to share your own experience of moving to Italy, please leave a comment below or get in touch by email at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.