Tossing the Dough to Success
Not too long ago, 27-year-old Alin may have been just another casualty in Italy’s ongoing battle with youth unemployment. Today, he co-owns and operates a thriving pizzeria in Sardigliano, Italy—an accomplishment he credits to the Salesian Vocational Training Center in nearby Serravalle Scrivia.
“A friend of mine recommended the school and program to me,” Alin explains. “He told me about a beautiful environment, useful for learning and becoming prepared for the workforce.”
Alin had long dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, but his opportunities were limited by circumstance. Today in Italy, nearly 41 percent of young people—a near-record high—are out of work. While the reasons are complex—including a chronically underfunded public education system; a mismatch between what students study and the skills employers need; older adults needing to work longer in order to retire; and the economic havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic—the results are frustratingly simple: a generation of promise, suffocating under the weight of lost opportunity and economic disadvantage.
This is where the Salesian Vocational Technical Center (VTC) comes in. For more than 40 years, the institution has offered market-driven training, soft-skills instruction, and job placement services for youth ages 14 to 24. More recently, the Center has added free courses for young people to help them enter the workforce for the first time, or re-train them in an area of existing need. These courses, designed for students over the age of 18, include counseling, real-world internships, career assistance and more.
When Alin heard about the VTC’s “Work Preparation – Sales” opportunity, he jumped on it immediately.
This 600-hour course is completely free for participants. According to a VTC administrator, “it also includes 300 hours of an internship during students’ third year in the program after the classroom work is completed. The students learn sales techniques, cash management and organization of the point of sale, in addition to several languages including English, and others that are relevant to the business world.”
Alin spent his internship learning business basics at a clothing store, which then led him to work in a pizzeria.
“In the store, I put into practice the knowledge I learned on how to approach customers, be polite and how to understand the needs of those in front of you. The course was very useful because they also taught me English—essential these days—and I was able to take the qualification exam for preparing and serving food and drinks, which came in handy later, saving time and money. Finally, I have perfected the theoretical knowledge through an internship.”
After a few years as a pizzeria employee, Alin approached his best friend about opening their own place. Today, the pair run a successful enterprise that—before COVID-19 restrictions—had become a neighborhood meeting spot. While they pivoted to a “take-out only” model during the shutdown, both look forward to resuming in-person operations soon.
Alin credits his education, and in particular, the internship he was provided by the Salesians, in helping him prepare for operating a business.
“Our interest and commitment to vocational training was born with St. John Bosco,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “For Alin, vocational training was a way to help young people enter the world of work with more dignity, and avoid being exploited and underpaid.”
During his long and faithful lifetime of working for, and with, marginalized youth, Don Bosco emphasized the notion of “practicing what’s been taught.” Today in Italy, promising young people like Alin are doing just that—further strengthening the knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce and become self-sufficient adults.
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