The average MiBACT competition candidate: 40-year-old, overspecialized, precarious. And probably desperate

After the first pre-selection test results of the MiBACT competition, some reflections on candidates and more.

A competition at the ministry marks maturity, sang CCCP. The problem is that, for candidates in the competition for 500 civil servant positions at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, maturity comes late, indeed: very late. From even a superficial reading of the results of the first test, the mega-quiz that sparked controversy to no end, a rather disturbing situation emerges: the figure that immediately jumps to the eye is theaverage age of the participants. Agreed: at best, the competition required, in addition to a master’s degree, a two-year master’s degree. That is: assuming a linear university career, this would be seven years of study. Theoretically, the youngest candidate would therefore be 26 years old. I am aware that these are purely spannometric calculations, but it is also true that, within a system that works and guarantees a job for those who choose a course of study in the cultural heritage sector, the average age of candidates should have been around thirty or thirty-five years of age.

Striking, however, is the huge number of applicants born in the 1970s, with even a few over 50 not far from retirement age. Hyperspecialized candidates who have gone through demanding specialized degrees (getting a degree in art history, architecture or archaeology, whatever they say, is anything but easy), through graduate schools that have equipped them with high-level professional skills, or through PhDs that would also have prepared them for a future as teachers. Candidates, however, who often work precarious jobs (or no jobs at all), which go on (when they go on) from contract renewal to contract renewal, often for laughable and miserable wages when compared to the requirements for doing certain jobs. Or candidates who are forced to work two or three jobs to support a family (because so many are fathers and mothers of families, some went to Rome for the selections with offspring in tow, and to them is also added a large cohort of pregnant women), and others who instead work in a profession that has nothing to do with the course of study they have undertaken. Then there are candidates who already work or collaborate in various capacities with the Superintendencies, and are therefore hoping for a career boost to be earned through the competition. These are not stories invented to get a hold of the reader: they are tales that emerge from the many Facebook groups that gather the thousands of applicants to the Ministry’s competition. Almost twenty thousand, to be exact, who will compete for five hundred positions variously distributed according to professional profile.

Candidates who hope, by winning the competition, to turn their careers around permanently with a permanent position that guarantees a decent salary. But in the end about one in forty candidates, on average, will be rewarded with a position in the ministry. So can we speak of hope, or rather of despair caused by an asphyxiated sector, unable to offer opportunities to so many young people who have chosen or are trying to choose a career in the cultural heritage, a sector reluctant towards long-term investment, led by a Ministry in which employees whose average age is well over fifty work, and which will probably be forced to close its doors in a few years, if things continue as they are?

500 professionisti per la cultura

The truth is that, unfortunately, the results of the pre-selection test best capture a set of situations well documented by surveys and research. Let us cite the 17th Survey (2015) Employment Condition of Graduates, conducted by the AlmaLaurea consortium: according to this survey, out of the sample of cultural heritage graduates surveyed, only 58 percent of them found a job after five years after graduating with a master’s degree, and of this 58 percent to have stable employment is 64.6 percent. However, there are other disturbing data: of these young people surveyed five years after graduation, as many as 41.7 percent said they were in a profession for which the skills they acquired during their studies were of no use. And the average salary was found to be €937 net per month, with a wide disparity between what men (on average €1,250 per month) and women (€856) earn.

These days, many people have been discussing especially the quiz questions: it is obvious that such a mode of selection will not reward the smartest or the most capable, but it will reward mostly those who had more time to prepare and perhaps assimilate mnemonically the hundreds of notions on which the tests were about. On the other hand, it is also the fastest type of selection to cope with an army of nearly twenty thousand people hoping to find a decent job. One can therefore put a lot of meat on the fire: one can talk about the quality of the quiz questions, possible favoritism, preferential lanes, and assorted conspiracies (on the Facebook groups dedicated to the competition, in these hours, it is all a flourish of controversies of various kinds with consequent appeal announcements, exchanges of jokes and accusations between those who passed and those who did not: better to gloss over episodes whose only merit is almost always to serve as a litmus test of the degree of discouragement), one can talk about universities creating degree programs that are useful more for assigning professorships than for providing skills to their graduates, one can talk about the competition being totally inadequate to cover the Ministry’s needs (although Minister Franceschini speciously and even somewhat ludicrously presents the competition as a"change," it seems that by the time the winners take their places at MiBACT, twice as many workers will have already retired, so the balance will still be negative). We can talk, in short, about anything, but the real questions we should be asking ourselves are more or less these: why did even 20,000 participate in the competition? Why do so many, too many havesuch a high average age? What was it that prompted these people to participate in the contest? Why are we failing to provide this cohort of young and old with high-level skills with real and serious opportunities?

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