The UK faces constant challenges in terms of youth unemployment. I thought it would be interesting to share my experience of how our Italian friends have used the co-operative models to help address this issue. 

Over the years Italy has faced tight labour markets, with young people leaving the higher education system and finding it difficult to secure work.  Faced with unemployment, many of the forward thinking Italian youth have chosen to establish their own businesses – setting up a worker co-operative with other graduates.

I visited Atlantide – a tourism co-operative – established by environmental studies graduates who were struggling to find employment.  Their endeavours certainly paid off, establishing a business which has grown to 50 worker members, with temporary staff doubling that number during peak seasons.

Like many co-operatives, Atlantide collaborates with other businesses. I visited one venture that is operated by a consortium of four businesses; Atlantis plus two cultural co-operatives and an environmental services company. Together they have established a society co-operative providing educational services on ecological, environmental and cultural assets. 

The consortium has a contract to manage 14 country parks in Emilia Romagna and deliver environmental educational services to schools. My visit included a tour of one of these parks – which I will never forget as the park was home to the most amazing wild flamingos. And just to add a bit of trivia – did you know that the reason Flamingos are pink is because they eat red plankton? That is a fact!

I was also lucky enough to visit Ravenna’s Museum of Natural Science which the consortia manage on behalf of the municipality.

So it seems the young professionals of Italy can teach us Scots a few lessons. This example illustrates how young people can create their own successful business and by working together, they can pool knowledge and resources while sharing risks. 

Until next time…

And remember…think ‘co-operatively’!

Sarah Deas is the chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, a Scottish Enterprise subsidiary, established to help companies grow by setting up consortium, employee-owned and community businesses. It works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise