Stylish figures: Italian database offers cutting-edge graduate information

March 19, 2011

Boundaries between national educational, professional and technical labour markets in Europe are becoming more permeable, according to Kate Purcell of the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research.

And that means the need for robust information about these highly dynamic markets – for university applicants, graduates, policymakers and employers – has never been more acute.

A good example of what Professor Purcell has in mind is AlmaLaurea, the Italian “meeting point for graduates, universities and the business world”, which may eventually provide the basis for a much broader Europe-wide resource. Some of the key issues in were debated at a conference on Human Capital and Employment in the European and Mediterranean Area, which was held at the University of Bologna earlier this month.

AlmaLaurea was set up in 1994 by Bologna’s Statistical Observatory and is now run by a consortium of 62 Italian universities with government support.

It provides a vast database of information about graduates relating to more than 100 criteria. Universities supply details of faculties, courses and their duration, titles of theses and so on. Students then provide personal information about their military service, work experience, language and IT skills, and availability to work abroad.

Those who have graduated can update their CVs as their careers develop. This means that detailed and reliable information on close to 1.5 million individuals can now be accessed.

“Many countries do similar surveys,” said Gilberto Antonelli, coordinator of AlmaLaurea’s scientific committee, “but I don’t think there’s such a systematic process of collection and certification of data elsewhere. Former students have an incentive to keep their information updated.”

Professor Purcell, who is also director of the Futuretrack longitudinal study of 2005-06 applicants to UK universities, said information gathering was much more fragmented in the UK. “The Warwick and the AlmaLaurea teams are convinced that there is considerable scope for mutual collaboration and have begun discussions to take this forward,” she added.

Such a big data source can be used in a variety of ways.

Large companies are happy to pay to obtain the names, for example, of recent graduates in mechanical engineering with a working knowledge of Japanese.

Andrea Cammelli, director of AlmaLaurea, recently told the newspaper Il Giorno that a search through the CVs in its database soon uncovered “3,700 Italian graduates who speak Chinese, over 4,000 who speak Japanese, 5,500 who speak Arabic, 8,600 Russian, and so on”.

It was precisely human capital such as this “that often escapes our country’s system”, he said, citing the case of a fluent Japanese speaker who had managed only to find work as a receptionist in a hotel. “If she doesn’t find anything better, it’s unlikely she’ll stay in Italy,” he suggested.

The database could become one of the essential tools that ensure that supply meets demand and that Italy flourishes internationally.

Steps to extend AlmaLaurea coverage beyond Italy have so far been limited, but one of the aims of this month’s conference was to show that better exchange of information could improve the labour market for graduates.

Although there is still a long way to go towards achieving what AlmaLaurea calls “the hypothesis of a European or transnational AlmaLaurea”, the Bologna conference was an important step in moving the process forward.

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