Flux out

Italy’s workforce heads abroad

Suzi Jenkins
November 6, 2014

Once upon a time we called it the ‘brain drain,’ implying that anyone with a decent degree, a mind in fabulous working order and some half-cooked English could get a far better job and pay outside Italy. We also called it an ‘event,’ an ‘occurrence,’ a ‘phenomena,’ as if it were a unique incident in the course of history. In 2014, it seems that we need to reassess that notion and revise our language. Not only are students who have graduated in medicine, biochemistry, engineering and information technology sciences leaving Italy in droves, so too are skilled and semi-skilled white- and blue-collar workers. Getting out of Italy has really become ‘a thing.’


The Italian exodus mostly consists of those between 18 and 34, desperate to find work. The facts are clear: young people need jobs and are willing to leave their families and countries in order to find them.


At present, approximately 4.5 million Italians are residing abroad, predominantly in Argentina, Germany and Switzerland. In recent years, preferred destinations are those that have managed to pull themselves out of recession the fastest: the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and France. In 2013, 94,000 Italians left Italy: over 70 percent chose the United Kingdom as their new home.  

While this potential labour force—short on experience but generally long on qualifications—is leaving, Italy is the goal of another potential workforce. Geographically close to world regions such as North Africa, Syria and the former Baltic states, where people are desperate for a new and better life, Italy is attracting an incoming workforce that, for the most part, has not had the same advantages of education. But in time, perhaps their children will also be part of Italy’s ‘brain drain,’ taking their education to more rewarding destinations.



After working abroad for years, Matteo Carri, originally from Pontassieve, just outside Florence, returned to Italy with a wife and child, lots of savings and high hopes of making a career at home. But after two years of working without a contract and enduring periods of unemployment, he had exhausted his savings, patience and desire to stay in Italy. He then set his sights on Australia, and found a job—with a contract—within 48 hours of arriving. After just three months, Carri had clear goals and opportunities in the tourism industry: ‘It is quite funny that I am still selling tours at the Uffizi but from the other side of the world.’



Until 2010, Florentine Costanza Lopez worked in Florence but was underemployed and bored. Lopez headed to Cork, Ireland, where she was soon able to open her own business, which she manages while holding a full-time job. Lopez notes, ‘Yes, I do work longer hours than I worked before in Italy, but I also work with a big smile on my face! That makes a huge difference.’

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