School and Enterprise: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The low level of integration which still exists between schools and enterprises in Italy is one of the first causes of the difficult access of youngsters to the labour market. There are however concrete initiatives such as the National Digital School Plan

by Renato Uggeri

The slow school-work transition in Italy is the reason of the highest number of NEETs (young persons between 18 and 24 who are neither employed nor in the process of being trained) in Europe and of a youth unemployment rate steady at 40%, while many companies do not find the knowledge needed to delve into the heart of Industry 4.0 and of the new technologies which the fourth industrial revolution introduced.
However, the digital transformation process which companies are called upon to tackle in order to be competitive and play leading roles on the markets is not just a matter of technology, but of competence too. A completely automated and interconnected industrial production, with the introduction of new technologies (IoT, robotics/automation, 3D printing, augmented reality, data economics, artificial intelligence, cloud) changes the way of producing but also changes the way of thinking and creating enterprises. The revolution which companies need to undergo is cultural before being technological, and at the centre of this evolution there are people.

An overall strategy aimed at an increasingly digital school
During the past few years, substantial resources have been allocated for digital innovation in schools, since it is now a fact that a greater digital literacy since the very first school years may contribute to create a greater degree of employability. Specifically, the National Digital School Plan (Ndsp) is an orientation document by the Ministry of Education, University and Research (Meur), created in order to launch an overall innovation strategy for our school and support its evolution aimed at fulfilling the requirements outlined above.This Plan will develop along four main sections, called “Tools”, “Competence and contents”, “Tutor training” and “Coaching”. In the first section, for instance, the aim is strengthening schools’ digital infrastructures with sustainable and inclusive solutions such as ultra-broad band, and the creation of spaces for learning and environments for integrated digital teaching. Regarding he digitization of schools, the creation of a digital identity of schools from an administrative standpoint is also envisaged, besides the introduction of such tools as the electronic register. The “Competence and contents” section, on the other hand, aims at defining the digital competence which all students must develop to increase their employability and support teachers in their role as facilitators of innovative learning processes.
The “Tutor training” section envisages action aimed at training tutors in such topics as teaching and organization innovation and, where necessary, at strengthening their digital competence. Finally, the “Coaching” section is dedicated to supporting the school in the innovation challenge with a strategic vision, at different levels, to prevent schools from enacting initiatives which are not interlinked, and to lead them gradually into the future.

Alternating school-work programs to connect the two worlds
An entire part of the “Competence and contents” section of the Ndsp is dedicated to the relationship between digital technology, entrepreneurship and jobs. Specific aims relative to these topics are: filing the digital gap which characterizes our country; promoting careers in the Steam (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths) domain; enhancing the relationship between school and work, involving students as a leverage for corporate digitization and as a driving force for the vocation of territories and so on. On the other hand, the connection between school and work is only effective if it turns into a bilateral synergy. The two parties must find common grounds for dialogue to allow a satisfactory transition from one to the other, both for employers and for the new employees. For this reason one of the key elements pf the Industry 4.0 Plan, which concerns the synergetic relationship between these two worlds, is “Spreading the Industry 4.0 culture by means of Digital Schools and of Alternating school-work programs”.
In the Industry 4.0 plan, indications are found for some implementations.
Digital technology provides fertile ground where to build a common space for school and work, and the most effective method currently available to link these two worlds can be the alternating program. This tool must however still go through a long fine-tuning phase during which schools will have to understand its potential fully.
Only by means of contacts with enterprises, by creating alternating programs really useful for students, the school will succeed in identifying the necessary competences to provide to the students.

Some concrete initiatives
Thanks to the technological evolution, in Italy a real change is therefore occurring in teaching too, and professional degree courses and doctorates are increasing. Turin’s Polytechnic, for instance, introduced a three-year professional training course focused on industrial, mechatronic and textile production engineering, sharing teaching and experimental machinery for “learning-by-doing”. Students may choose one of three syllabi: the three-year degree course within the Polytechnic, two years of technical school (ITS) leading to a school-leaving certificate or, after two years of ITS, attendance of the third year to attain a professional degree.
Last November the “Smart Industry” course also started: this is the first Italian doctorate dedicated to Industry 4.0. The three-year course 8financed by the Tuscany Region in partnership with the Universities of Pisa, Florence and Sienna) creates a contact between students and companies, providing the opportunity to be trained for new professional roles concerning technological innovation in 4.0 industrial processes. The peculiarity of the doctorate is the mandatory requirement to carry out part of research in corporate laboratories or mixed University-corporate labs.
Finally, as regards company and worker training, Bi-Rex was founded in Bologna; this is the first of seven competence centres for Industry 4.0 which will be created in Italy. Within the centre 57 partners will operate: universities, research centres and companies. Activities also concern other regions such as Campania, Lazio, Lombardy, Marche, Piedmont, Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige, with the aim of training companies and workers for the digital revolution in the industry.