Italy is one of the younger staffing markets in Europe. The Romans may have been open-minded and creative enough to have invented plumbing, roads, concrete and modern medicine, but the provision of temporary personnel through a private company was stubbornly restricted until as recently as 1997 with the passing of the ‘Treu Law’. And the birth pangs of modern flexible working were not exactly untroubled — in 1999, a key government advisor on employment issues, Massimo D’Antona, was murdered by the Red Brigade for assisting in the development of “neo-corporatist strategy” in Italy. Unions objected strongly to this ‘precarious’ form of employment and, during the same period, a number of staffing company offices were firebombed.
It is a marked contrast to the thriving temporary staffing market we see in Italy today. Despite a rather anemic GDP forecast of 1.1 percent for this year, unemployment of more than 8 percent, high levels of public debt and a political system that seems to lurch from one scandal to another, Italy is currently one of the fastest growing staffing markets in Europe.
According to the latest data published by the bilateral organization for temporary employment representing employers' associations and unions, Ebitemp, the seasonally adjusted sum of wages paid to agency temporary employees rose by 25.1 percent in April 2011 from April 2010. Strictly speaking, with an economy in such a parlous state, you would not expect temporary staffing to be growing so strongly. Clearly there are some tangible structural and cultural drivers at work. Or just maybe, after a very shaky foundation, the Italians are now embracing alternative work forms.
On June 6, Staffing Industry Analysts published its analysis of the Top Staffing Firms in Italy. What we found was a well-structured, well-regulated and competitive market that is accelerating quickly out of the depths of the 2009 recession. While the market is penetrated by established international staffing companies, a new younger breed of Italian firms is also emerging strongly, such as GI Group, Obiettivo Lavoro, Metis, Umana and Openjob. The ambitious GI Group, in particular, has spread its wings to all corners of Italy and more recently into other parts of the world. The company’s international network covers 12 countries and, in March 2011, made its latest strategic move with an acquisition in the United Kingdom.
Admittedly, not everything is perfect — the staffing industry is concentrated in the north of the country (well, to be accurate, mostly everything is concentrated in the north of the country!) and temporary staffing legislation still has some progress to make before we could typify it as a liberal staffing market. But staffing companies in Italy should have some cause for optimism, not only about their short-term progress but also about their longer-term prospects. With one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe and a strict quota-driven immigration policy, Italy will be at the forefront of the impending skills crunch and employers will be compelled to become more reliant on staffing providers and the flexible forms of employment they can provide.