SWZ: Somewhat unusual to keep on teaching for many years whilst following a business career at the same time?
Mauro Chiarel: A little tiring, yes, lots of enthusiasm required, but also good fun and I have always been reluctant to give up my school contacts.
But does the teaching help you in your business career?
Well, knowing the needs of business and the capabilities of the students helps me focus on my teaching input and also helps me advise companies on ideas and ways of introducing youngsters to the workplace. Being at school certainly gives me the pulse of the situation and the students appreciate the stories of and the developments in the world of work I bring to them.
Is it fair to say that the school is a laboratory for you?
That would be fair comment in the sense that it allows for some experimentation at school and if I can bring the fruits of industrial experience that is a benefit. School and work are the same in that one is always evaluating persons and systems and looking at performance. The book of life needs to be a practical one and not purely theoretical.
So you are a different type of ‘prof’ to the mainstream?
I would say that what is lacking in schools nowadays is actual work and industrial experience of the teachers – they may be excellent from a pedagogic standpoint but they cannot bring the know-how and problematics of the world of work to the youngsters.
And in the old days this wasn’t true?
Back in those times there was a far greater mix of teachers – many having hands-on skills to relate to the students. It is far less the case these days.
Tell us a little about your background.
I first walked through the doors of the former ITI in 1972, today the school is called IISS, and I started teaching there in 1979.
You didn’t go to university and do a masters and follow traditional routes?
Back in the seventies youngsters like me who came from a working class family followed the then natural route of trying to secure a job and earn a living. The aim of many was to stay in one of the big industrial groups for life and get a pension. That of course has changed in that a person can expect to work in several organisations in their lifetime and a greater flexibility and wider skill set are required. As for myself I can say that my worldly experience came later.
What do you mean?
When I was in my late twenties I had the chance to go to Ecuador and manage a professional training institute for a year.
And from that experience came your feel for an interest in business?
I guess so. I set up Tangram just a few years later and had a big appetite for using my acquired experience in vocational training to good effect.
And how has this materialised over the years?
As in school as in life there has been an evolution and we have developed from vocational related technical projects with a strong practical element to providing more personalised solutions for companies and organisations.
With any particular focus?
Let’s say that we are now at a point here we don’t offer a pre-packaged product or service. We look to establish a relationship with companies and organisations, whereby we look to identify the weak link or problematic in their internal system of operating – be it a human resource, technical issue, even questions of culture and behavioural styles – and work in a systematic manner to improve the weak link which is hindering productivity or relations.
Sounds very sophisticated.
At the end of the day business is all about people and values and mutual appreciation, and it is these aspects we work on and try to establish and share the way of operating with the owner managers. We look to facilitate relationships internal to any structure so as not to complicate life, productivity, and in the end to give a competitive edge to an operation.
In school, too, values and interaction in relationships are fundamental?
Exactly. We need to help the young ones understand that the big wide world out there is not anxiously waiting for them but that they have to prove who they are and what they have to offer. This is the big challenge facing all.
Are the schools prepared for this?
Not an easy one to answer. In the technical schools there has been a big shift from the practical to the theoretical. On the one hand this is a good move because we all have to realise that globalisation is a fact and not an option, that three languages are indispensable even in mechanical and electronic engineering, and students will need to offer something in a cultural sense in the world of work.
And on the other hand?
Students still need core skills and, what is more, need to learn approaches to problem solving.
So what is the challenge schools are faced with?
The challenge is all about responding to the challenge itself. There is no pre-fixed solution but the knot has to be untied so that the system can flow and the individuals, the students who are the protagonists, can benefit from this. ‘Balance’ as always is a key word.
And as for IISS itself? Once a choice of a vocational technical school might have been considered a second choice, the Liceo Classico and Liceo Scientifico being the preferred choices.
This really is a hot potato. It is common knowledge that those coming from the Liceo Classico or Liceo Linguistico and going on to a university degree in humanities or similar are not necessarily as attractive as they once were to the job market. Certainly the numbers enrolling in the Mechanical and Electronical disciplines are increasing.
And as for job opportunities, or to put it another way ‘problems of unemployment’, amongst school-leavers?
Those leaving IISS do well and have no particular problems. The tradition in this region of working in the summer during school vacations is a factor not to underestimate. The Germanic influence of companies willing to assist youngsters is helpful also – they do not insist on having ‘the finished article’ as a resource element.
And to look for a moment at the wider picture of business and industrial development in South Tyrol?
Just to look at two sectors gives an idea of the opportunities. In the food and artisan businesses there is enormous potential. The South Tyrol small medium size enterprises have a lot to offer, have been fortunate to be located between the markets of “Bavaria” and “Padania”, and now must make their move to the wider world.
Is the Italian brand an advantage or a drawback in this instance?
It is still perceived of in an extremely positive way – Italian creativity and design and flair for innovation is well recognised and has not been necessarily damaged by political or criminal scandals.
So what is missing in the export drive?
That’s an easy one to answer. We are way behind other countries when supporting our exporters once they have success abroad and are on the verge of opening new markets - banking, insurance, and all other auxillary services required to set up abroad are too often left to the individual company and this can discourage investment in expansion.
And a personal wish for the future?
50 years at ITI, now IISS, would be quite an achievement!
Well, thanks for your time and let’s hope you achieve your target!
Thank you. My pleasure.