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Off the job

Italy [EMPLYOMENT]

Italians may be feeling the pinch these days. The jobless rate is at a four-year high and predicted to rise above 10 per cent next year. Yet there are certain jobs that they are not willing, or able, to do anymore – and it’s not just cleaning and picking seasonal fruit.

According to Confartigianato, the country’s artisan trade association, some 30,000 jobs will go unfilled in 2009 as Italians take a pass on offers of blue-collar work in bakeries and mechanics’ garages. The association attributes part of the problem to the fact that there are few training programmes in place to learn skills such as stonecutting and laying parquet flooring. It does not help that wages in these kinds of jobs are often much lower than in other occupations.

Hardest hit by the move away from manual work is carpentry, where only 50 per cent of vacancies are filled. Close behind are barbers (49 per cent), victims of the disposable razor and a faster pace of life in Italy’s big cities. Even businesses that are tied to the fashion trade are not immune to the trend – one third of vacancies for hatmakers and tailors are without applicants.

Many seeking work, especially recent graduates, seem to have their mind set on a cushy desk job, preferably one in the public sector, which currently employs over three million people and has long been a haven for what locals refer to as fannulloni (do-nothings). However, the association does report one job where Italians are happy to get their hands dirty: ice-cream maker. In the past five years, there’s been a 10 per cent rise in those opening gelato stands.

Screen time

France [SWINE FLU]

It’s not often schools tell their pupils to stay at home and watch television, but the French government knows it could be dealing with an unusual autumn this year. As part of the national contingency plan for a dramatic upsurge in swine flu infections, the National Centre for Educational Documents spent all summer recording enough lessons to fill three months of missed teaching. That way, if France has to order mass school closures, children can simply learn on their own from the 264 hours of classes prepared for state television or 288 hours of radio broadcasts.

Q&A Susanne Wiigh Mäsak

Founder of Promessa Organic Sweden

Wiigh Mäsak is a biologist who has invented a new, ecological burial method that is proving instantly popular. Mäsak’s system, called “promession”, turns a body into powder using a combination of deep freezing, vibration and freeze drying.

It took her 10 years to perfect the process. The powder is buried approximately 20cm under the ground in a corn starch case and is absorbed into the soil between six and 18 months later. Several countries, among them Sweden, South Korea, Canada and Germany, have expressed interest in the system.

Why is promession better than a traditional casket burial or cremation?
With those [traditional] methods, people’s bodies either rot or are burned. Many people find promession more appealing and less frightening [than something like cremation]. It’s a nice thing to imagine giving new life after your death – to a flower, for instance. It’s also important that we humans don’t destroy nature. Casket burial affects the groundwater negatively and cremation creates problems with emissions.

Is it expensive?
Not more expensive than the other methods. Also, there are no remains left in the ground just a year and a half after the burial, whereas in a traditional casket there are remains even after 25 years. That’s an important factor in places where there is little space available for graves.

Where will the first promession facilities be?
The Swedish town of Jönköping should start next year, and South Korea has ordered equipment for 10 facilities. There are 10 million people in the capital, Seoul, alone, and they need graves where it doesn’t take decades for the bodies to disappear.

More days at a time, Swede Jesus

Sweden

Extra holidays at Epiphany and Ascension mean that Lutheran Swedes get more days off for religious reasons than many Europeans, with nine a year (Roman Catholic Poles only get seven).

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