As one leaves Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel and lands on the New Jersey side, immediately what catches the eye is the amount of commercial businesses that bear Italian names. The Garden State, as the state on the other side of the Hudson is commonly known, is one of the areas in America with the largest population of Italian descent: almost 18 percent in total, according to data from the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF).
A thriving Italian population also signifies that there are many businesses with an Italian soul: not only those in the United States who commercialize products of the Made in Italy brand, but also those overseas who make products inspired by or of Italian tradition. Addressing this rich and varied enterprise is Montclair State University which, with a program in Italian Studies that has one of the highest enrollments in America as well as an innovative school of business, has launched an initiative aimed at bringing the study of Italian into the third millennium, exploring the professional opportunities tied to the knowledge of the language.
The Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, in collaboration with the Italian Program, the Feliciano School of Business, and Choose NJ, invited Italian and Italian-American businesses based in New Jersey and New York State to come and familiarize themselves with the University and its activities, in a meeting designed to open a dialogue on possible future collaborations.
Many responded to the invitation and, at the inaugural event organized at Montclair State at the end of March, the attendees were: Safilo, Colavita USA, Cembre, Michelangelo Designs, DMI Trades, ET Formaggi, Grandi Pastai Italiani, Cibo Italia, Casabona Ventures, Monte dei Paschi di Siena , Vemini, Choose NJ.
The Inserra Chair and the Feliciano School of Business are not new to collaborating, nor is it the first time the Inserra Chair inserts the study of Italian language squarely into the workforce, breaking the stereotype of Italian as a language tied only to the humanities. As Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, explained, introducing the event, “we want to promote Italian not only as a bella lingua but also as a useful language, while always keeping in mind the important role of the Italian cultural tradition.” Fiore then wanted to underscore that this is a shared demand, so much so that, she recalled, the last Joint Action for the Italian language (Stati Generali della lingua italiana) was dedicated specifically to Made in Italy.
Enza Antenos, Deputy Chair of the Italian Program and instructor of the Italian Business course, recalled that the commitment of Montclair State towards a program aimed at the workforce is not new: back in 2014, in collaboration with La Voce di New York, the Italian Business course and Inserra Chair created a project entitled Business Italian- Style, aimed at promoting meetings between students and businesses, as well as introducing both parties to the professional opportunities tied to the study of the Italian language in the tri-state area. The project will be repeated this year and, in these coming weeks, a new class of students is working on interviewing Italian entrepreneurs in New York.
And this is not the only MSU project that is already bearing fruit in this direction: Marisa Trubiano, Associate Professor, described her work coordinating a group of students who, starting from a partnership born during the Expo, creates surtitles for plays presented at some of the most prestigious Italian theaters, from the Piccolo, to the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, from the Arena in Verona, to the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
The companies present have participated with interest in the meeting, confirming that there is a need for people who know the Italian language and culture to work in the field of Made in Italy abroad.
“We hope to produce for you your workforce of tomorrow and we hope that, by making your businesses grow on American soil, you will take into consideration our students,” Robert Friedman, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, explained to the participating businesses.
But the cooperation between the entrepreneurial and academic worlds is of interest not only because the companies have a need for qualified personnel that know the Italian language and culture – and a University such as Montclair State can offer a rich pool of possible candidates – but also because, through initiatives of this kind, Made in Italy in America can be part of an integrated approach. As Keith Barrack – Chief of Staff, Office of the President of MSU – addressing the present companies said, “the University wants to be a part of your success.”
The goal of an integrated approach was demonstrated by the presence of Maurizio Forte, director of the Italian Trade Agency of New York, who sponsored the event. “Unfortunately” – said Forte – “Italy is not seen as a country that can give you a good job and develop your career. It almost seems as if the many quality products by which everyone recognizes us are born without any effort. And yet we are hard workers; in Europe, we are the ones that work the most hours per week. And it’s true, we know how to enjoy life, but we also know how to make products that help one enjoy life.” Forte then explained that The Ministry of Economic Development, since 2014, decided to focus much of its resources on the American market, and almost 50 percent of the budget for internationalization today goes towards stocks in the United States which, so said the director of the ITA, is also the market that is growing the most.
And yet many Italian businesses, when they arrive in this market, risk underestimating the challenges; therefore, what becomes crucial is having personnel that, on one hand, can interact with the Italian part of the company (as was recalled during the meeting, Italy is still primarily a monolingual country, thus making it necessary to know Italian to do business), and, on the other hand, can help the company itself navigate the complexities of a competitive market like the American one. The purpose of the meeting in March and the initiatives that will follow is therefore to understand what the businesses need and what they are looking for in recent graduates.
Taking part in the meeting were also Margie Piliere and Eric Perkins of Choose NJ, an organization that supports businesses that choose New Jersey as their base. Perkins’ observations highlighted the importance of keeping in mind cultural values, as well as the heritage and aesthetic perspective of business Italian-style. As Teresa Fiore concluded: “In this operation of didactic rethinking, which links Italian and Business in view of a new degree with shared credits, within a wider design of business degrees as well as other foreign languages, we are not putting aside the cultural and humanistic aspects: the great classics of literature can be part of the curriculum, with different approaches.”
The meeting was followed by an event, part of the Critical Made in Italy series, with the participation of Andrea Illy (illycaffè) and journalist Daniele Balicco.
Translated by Marta Russoniello