Comunità Progetto Sud (Project South Community) was created as a self-managed association designed to improve coexistence between people both with and without disabilities. The aim was to foster a sense of community and build viable alternatives to the existing forms of institutionalization and marginalization. It is currently a network of smaller groups that helps to promote inclusion and integration policies for a range of marginalised people. This might take the form of lobbying for the protection of citizenship rights; promoting healthy life experiences; experimenting with innovative public services; taking part in social economy projects, fighting against organised crime and promoting justice. Founded in 1976, it is based in the town of Lamezia Terme, in Calabria (Southern Italy). This is a region that is often portrayed as having significant problems due to high unemployment, organized crime and a high rate of emigration leading to a loss of working age population, especially the young and qualified.

Regarding the issue of outward migration specifically, according to the data in the latest Svimez report, more than 2 million people emigrated from Southern Italy in the period between 2002 and 2017, including 132,187 in 2017 alone. This represents a catastrophic loss of manpower and such numbers demonstrate that there is an emigration emergency from the South that has led to a shortage of people qualified for certain professions that is not compensated by the flows of foreign workers – often unskilled young people mostly with a low level of education. This situation sums up the Calabrian context and, based on our experience, even the newly arrived immigrants themselves do not stay for long in the local area. Indeed, they tend to move to other Italian regions or abroad in search of greater stability. Recently even some of the migrants who had lived for a long time in Lamezia Terme decided to return to their country of origin.

To better explain the context of the local labour market, it is important to highlight the fact that many jobs in Calabria are focused on the agricultural and artisan sectors. There is a demand for qualified professionals in this sector which is difficult to meet because the regional training systems in place are unable to respond to labour market demands. The vocational training courses offered by the Regional government are not, in fact, suitable for the local area. They do not respond to the actual training needs of the labour market, both because there are not enough of them and because a serious study has never been carried out by the local authorities to define what the needs of the Calabrian job market really are.

The activities carried out by Comunità Progetto Sud are aimed at increasing job opportunities for disadvantaged people, whether they be Italians or foreigners. Gli arnesi del mestiere (“The tools of the trade”) is the name given to the professional training courses that are offered through the support of a ‘La Scuola del Sociale’, the name given to training structure of the association that has been accredited by the Calabria Region. In a difficult context, both due to the high unemployment rate and for the scarcity of professional training courses suited to the demands of the labour market, these courses have been designed to help participants acquire work skills and fundamental theoretical knowledge to help them enter the world of work.

The training courses are designed to match the needs of the local job market, in particular to replace those professionals who often leave. It has been noted that the local job market suffers from a lack of training for specific jobs, such as pizza chef, baker and carers. The choice of training to be offered by Progetto Sud was based on an analysis of the labour market and the needs of local companies. Secondly, the introduction of individual training plans for participants were carried out in direct collaboration with local entrepreneurs (who then become the trainers themselves), in an ongoing and organic relationship between work and training environments. It is important to stress that the association always follows strict ethical guidelines in choosing the companies it gets involved with. Entrepreneurs are chosen who respect workers’ rights, environmental protection regulations and the refusal to pay the pizzo (protection money) to the local mafia.

The courses are designed to offer greater employment opportunities in the local context of Lamezia Terme. However, given how frequent migrants need to travel for work, including outside the region, they were also created with the aim of acquiring skills and abilities that can be used in other territories: whether that be in Italy or other European countries, with the hope that one day participants may return ‘home’ to their country of origin. Since 2017, 12 training workshops have been launched and a further professional training course has been accredited by the Calabria Region in agreement with a variety of local actors (companies, training bodies, reception structures). This promotes the growth of entrepreneurial skills and an increase in employability skills for the beneficiaries involved in specific work sectors: baking, personal assistance, catering (pizzeria), nutrition, electrician and even beekeeping. This made it possible to train, to date, 141 young Italians and foreigners; involving 18 local companies; actively engaging 20 entrepreneurs in training courses, and activating 12 training workshops and 1 professional training course. At the end of the training courses, 70 internships were started in 65 local companies.