Italy China Career Day (ICCD) is promoted and organized by Italy China Foundation (ICF), a non-profit organisation whose aim is to establish economic relationships between Italy and China, in collaboration with Associna, an association of “second generation” Chinese; Assolombarda, a regional business association; Almalaurea, an inter-university consortium; and with the partnership of the Consulate of the Popular Republic of China (Fondazione Italia-Cina, Associna, 2014).
ICCD is a career day aiming to put Italian firms and young people in touch with people who have Chinese origins (or having any kind of relationship with China). It takes place once a year in Milan since 2011. Candidates who are targeted by this initiative are mostly young people with a Chinese background (people of ‘generation 2’ or ‘generation 1,5’), with high educational qualifications, that may benefit from the social and economic contacts taken in this initiative to improve their social position and to be recognized as skilled and valuable professionals.
Even if it is organised as a proper career day, with a preparatory on-line phase through a dedicated website, it aims to provide also a strong training opportunity both to firms and candidates. Before the ICCD was born, there were already other career days targeting Sino-Italian people but, according to the interviewees, they did not have training as a key point. The training offered by ICCD consists in seminars about Chinese and Italian cultural issues.
According to ICF manager interviewed, the training about Chinese and Italian ‘work culture’ makes up the most innovative part of the project, and an important focus for the promoters. The attention about this issue comes from the personal experience of those managing ICF, and their understanding of Chinese culture. This grounds their focus on intercultural communication between Italian firms and young Chinese job-seekers (and, in general, between Italians and Chinese). The aim is to overcome specific and reciprocal stereotypes and prejudices, that are considered to come more from poor knowledge and acquaintance than from cultural distance. So, ICCD is also meant to overcome discrimination risks, provide information about China and Chinese to Italians, and about the “western world” to Chinese, thanks to cross-cultural skills and experiences that members of ICF consider to have.
In past editions, ICCD was funded by sponsors. Now the main funding source is a fee that firms pay to participate; this makes the project economically independent.
The number of participants is considered satisfactory by the promoters. In the last edition, that took place on January 15th, there were 398 candidates and 16 firms participating (all large firms). Among the participants, 152 were selected for a job interview at the career day. ICF does not register data on the number of candidates that find a job through ICCD, so it’s impossible to evaluate its impact on the labor market.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The focus of ICCD is group-based, hence considering a very specific diversity, i.e. ethno-national background. It targets those combining Italian and Chinese backgrounds. What is more, targeting those with a high educational level, mobile, mixed-background professionals, implicitly we can see a focus on a kind of hyper-diversity. This also means that the initiative has not that much a focus on discrimination and the intersection of class and ethnic disadvantage.
Given this focus, the main aims of the project can be seen in fostering social mobility and – somehow as a consequence – also social cohesion, i.e. increasing socio-economic relationships between Italy, China, Italians and Chinese through the role of Sino-Italian youngsters.
Though, this understanding of culture may be also a potential risk, since it may lead to reverse negative stereotypes with positive ones, that are nevertheless stereotypes, too – oversimplifying the complex hyper-diverse experience of mixed-background professionals.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Among the factors behind the success of this initiative, we can mention the partnership with important economic actors, but also the positive visibilization of a minority group often victim of negative stereotypes about its assumed self-isolation. The strong focus on mixed backgrounds may foster the idea of cultural diversity as part of new generations of Italians – a discourse that still is hardly supported in a monoethnic national political culture (Calavita, 2005).
As a potentially negative factor behind the initiative, we can point out that the goal is more symbolic than effective. As we mentioned above, we can use as a proxy the fact that ICCD’s economic return cannot be assessed. This lack of data may be interpreted also as a low priority given to this issue: it may not be the main success factor. As mentioned for ‘Diversitalavoro’ above, the symbolic significance (the aim of changing discourses on a specific kind of diversity) is more relevant, while the effect on market participation can be considered a long-term goal.
Thus, the lack of a thorough monitoring of outcomes can be considered as a weakness of ICCD, also grounded in the small dimension of the promoting organisation, and the lack of expertise in assessment. As a consequence, improving outcome data is among the aims of ICF for next editions.
To overcome negative consequences of small dimensions of ICF, the organisation is interested in using more consistently new ICT tools (e.g. social media) to get easily in touch with participants. Furthermore, as for Diversitalavoro, the lack of SMEs involved is a weakness that the promoters want to address for the next future.
Rather than in diversity management, this project is engaged in the intercultural management on the workplace. This may be considered the main peculiarity and innovative point of ICCD. Even if the range of diversity considered by the ICCD is narrow, it is an interesting project for the peculiar intertwining of career day format, training, and the creation of cross-cultural skills to foster mutual recognition, hence social cohesion, and social mobility through an economy-driven initiative.
Website: Italy China Career Day