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Abstracts of dissertations

Climbers or prisoners of the labor market? A study on occupational trajectories of Italian young graduates using Sequence Analysis
Monticelli , Lara

Emilio Reyneri
Milano-Bicocca University (Milano)

Year of completion 2014

language of dissertation

  • school-to-work transition
  • graduate students
  • sequence analysis
Areas of Research
  • Work
  • Economy and Society
  • Youth
Entrance in the labor market and insiders-outsiders dualism have always been topics of foremost interest in the sociology of work and education. Since the introduction of labor market reforms, twenty years ago, the Italian debate found new boost. The extensive use of new forms of flexible contracts, both in the private and in the public sector, generated vicious circles for young people. Flexible contracts often become traps of precariousness rather than “stepping stones” towards more rewarding and stable careers. Many authors suggest that entering the labor market with a temporary contract may have some scarring effects on future wages and career perspectives. According to this entrapment theory the labor market is “two-tiered”, with a primary segment offering good and well paid job positions and a secondary segment offering short term and low paid work, with no career prospects. Nonetheless, some distinctions are worth concerning different types of temporary jobs. Some temporary jobs can actually be considered as probationary periods, acting as “stepping stones” towards more rewarding positions. Others – such as for example seasonal or casual jobs – are potential traps towards scarred careers.
As for the educational level of labor market entrants, scholars believe that tertiary educated youngsters, although possibly suffering of initial wage penalties respect to their peers employed with open-ended contracts, have more catching-up possibilities than the less educated ones, due to their relatively higher bargaining and signaling power.

The analysis of early career patterns is crucial to understand the pervasive phenomenon of job precariousness among Italian young adults. Fixed-term contracts at the beginning of working career can turn out to be both stepping stones or traps. The “career mobility” theories support the former type of evolution: sub-optimal labor market positions can be easily outmatched by internal upward mobility ladders. The characteristics of the labor market in Italy – highly segmented, characterized by small-medium family-run enterprises, and with rare upward mobility – can lead to consider the latter interpretation (fixed-terms contracts as traps) as more realistic. Also, a fifteen years long series of labor market reforms introduced a multitude of different fixed-term contracts. Some of them are similar to open ended contracts as regards protection and benefits offered to workers. Others, although resembling occasional collaborations between professional freelancers, frequently hide continuous de facto dependent working relationships performed in suboptimal conditions, and without any real binding conditions for the employer. Furthermore, recent statistics report that a large part of young workers start their career holding a fixed-term contract, and being over qualified for their position.

Given literature findings, our research questions can be summarized as follows:
- Which are the main characteristics of careers’ first track of Italian young graduates? Is it possible to group Italian young graduates into clusters according to their work trajectory, and to derive some “ideal-typical” trajectories? If so, do these trajectories reflect the distinction between “stepping-stone” and trapped careers described in the literature?

- What is the role played by socio-demographic and exogenous variables – such geographical area or unemployment rate – in the determination of these trajectories?

First of all, we assume that socio-demographic variables do play a role in determining the timing, the quality and the characteristics of labor market entrance. Ascribed variables are particularly relevant in the case of Italy, where social upward mobility is still heavily linked to socio-economic familiar background. Also, exogenous and context variables (geographical area, field of study, working public or private sector) are crucially important. As for geographical area, previous researches showed that consistent differences exist between Northern and Southern Italian regions. In particular, the diffusion of informal jobs and unemployment in the South explains the lower rate of fixed term contracts among youngsters compared to Northern and Central regions. As for the comparison between public and private sector, recent studies revealed that atypical contracts are widespread in the public sector.
As for contracts type, we assume that fixed-term contracts do not necessarily lead to entrapped suboptimal positions. Actually, recent quantitative studies evidenced the existence of a mismatch between dimensions: type of contract, subjective precariousness and objective insecurity.

To describe the occupational trajectories we refer to Sequence Analysis (SA), a technique aiming at analyzing individual trajectories represented as sequences, i.e. ordered collections of the activities experienced by individuals in a given time period.