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Updating the logic of human resources classification

When a company hires a new resource as an employee, what is written after the words “qualification”, “category”, and “level” is crucial.

The reason is, that the description affects the labor costs on the company’s budget, as well as the entire professional life of the person who is starting a career at the company.

In addition, it will have an impact on the organization of the company itself and/or the relevant department according to the individual’s role within the organization chart, regardless of whether that chart is an official document, or simply represents the way things work, as happens in many SMEs.

The classification could even generate turbulence in the area involved, if it were somehow misaligned or inconsistent with the qualifications of those already present.

Employee classification is a great responsibility for the employer, who will be obliged to maintain it in the future except for based on specific grounds, that must be agreed upon in discussions with trade unions.

Italian managers and entrepreneurs are well aware of the procedures to be followed, so why do they so frequently keep qualifications, categories, and levels misaligned with the actual position of employees, often leading to litigation or claims?

Employment relationships can last for a very long time, and the current situation is the result of choices made over the years, conditioned by outdated organizational models, but also by the evolution of collective bargaining and regulations.

Promotions and changes as rewards: distortions

The case of Italy

In Italy, for decades promotions and changes of job title or category have been perceived as rewards or incentives for employees.

It is not difficult to find workers who do exclusively physical tasks but who – due to their remarkable qualities of punctuality, precision, and reliability – have been classified as concept workers, even with management functions in some cases.

Similarly, workers who are employed in entirely manual activities often have an adequate classification, but are qualified as office workers rather than laborers.

Today, it is clear that the assignment of qualifications and levels or categories must take place based on absolutely objective criteria, such as the tasks and responsibilities of the resources. Their educational qualifications could also be a factor, if foreseen by the collective bargaining agreement. But what should the choice be based on?

The assignment of qualifications and levels: the case of the Italian national collective labor contract (CCNL) for the metalworking industry

The responsibility for the current situation lies not only with Italian entrepreneurs and managers, who have acted in good faith based on the logic of the moment; it is also the result of the collective bargaining process, that is often inadequate and obsolete.

Until 2016, the Italian CCNL for metalworking industry workers included tasks such as “typewriting and shorthand typing”, or even “perforation of data-processing sheets”. The new version drawn up in 2016 removed these expressions – which are a bit amusing – but has not changed the structure of how personnel are classified.

Only in 2021 did the social partners sign a new CCNL that confirmed spirit of innovation, change and improvement that must guide SMEs in the future.

What are the new logics?

In the past, the classification level of Italian workers was attributed mainly based on their acquired skills and experience, linked essentially to the tasks that characterized the work performed by the relevant individual.

The level thus determined was perceived as a starting point, that could be upgraded based on professional experience, but also, as previously stated, as a reward.

This meant that if an electrician hired as a skilled worker performed well, he could become a specialized worker, and then gain more experience and become what is known as a proficient, highly-skilled worker. Then, if he continued to behave well, worked hard, was reliable and punctual in his job, he could one day be re-qualified as a conceptual or managerial employee, while still working as an electrician.

The new CCNL changes everything, because it projects us into a world where human capital finally has the importance it deserves.

Experience and technical expertise are only one-sixth of the evaluation

Today, the level is assigned considering the following professional criteria:

  • autonomy and functional hierarchical responsibility;
  • specific technical competence;
  • skills across sectors and commitment to improvement;
  • versatility;
  • multifunctionality;
  • continuous development and innovation.

Naturally, the various factors must be weighted based on specific tasks and situations. But it is sufficient to read the list to see the power of words such as “responsibility” and “improvement”, compared to which “technical competence” is a bit overshadowed.

These criteria are explained well by the CCNL, and must allow the entrepreneur to determine the classification to assign to new hires, as well as the qualities to develop, enhance, and monitor in employees already present at the company.

This is certainly more complex than considering human resources only based on their professional skills, but we hope that Italian entrepreneurs will adopt this new vision, which is perfectly in line with the epochal changes that are affecting the labor market in the twenty-first century.

Anna Cortesi

Consulente Aziendale e del Lavoro – Coordinamento progetti di internazionalizzazione, CEO TradeCube® www.tradecube.it