As the Italian government struggles to stave off a biting debt crisis, thousands of university graduates are scraping the barrel for any job going or abandoning Italy altogether to try their luck abroad.
"I did really well at my Master's degree but it makes no difference. I'm lucky to have found a job in the local pet shop," said 28-year old Siriana Malavita, who speaks five languages and had hoped to go on to do a doctorate.
"I had to give up on that dream. The university professors tend to favour their own students and personal projects, so unless you have the right connections -- and money to pay your own way -- then forget it," she said.
In an attempt to use her languages, Malavita sent out reams of CVs to export companies in her hometown of Modica in Sicily -- a farming industry centre which produces prized olives, dried fruit and chocolate.
"But the businesses don't want graduates; they hire their brothers, cousins, friends," she said.
Friends of hers who have studied law, economics or modern languages find themselves in the same position, fighting over temporary summer jobs, working as industrial cleaners to pay the rent or giving up and seeking work abroad.
Photo journalist Matteo Pellegrinuzzi, 31, tired of scraping by and being paid months late by unreliable employees, left Milan for Paris in 2009 -- where his work gets snapped up by top magazines -- and has never looked back.
"It's sad to think that to avoid ending up an odd-job man, a painter or a street-cleaner, I've had to leave home," he said.
"But if Italy is facing this sort of crisis, it only has itself to blame. Where is the financial aid or support for young people?" he asked.
According to a study by the education think tank AlmaLaurea, unemployment among graduates "has gone up over the last 10 years, while pay packets have shrunk and contracts are harder to come by."
The report, based on the most recent data available, said that 16.2 percent of graduates were unemployed in 2009 a year after finishing their studies.
The proportion of unemployed graduates in 2007 was 11.3 percent.
"Italy invests shockingly little in its young people. Compared to countries such as France, Germany and the United States we really risk being marginalised," AlmaLaurea director Andrea Cammelli told AFP.
"The so-called 'brain drain' is real -- graduates who take the plunge and go abroad are more satisfied, they earn more and they are made to feel like they are worth more," he said.
But not all those who have failed to find a job in their chosen field are ready to try their luck abroad or believe that things there will be any different.
Unemployed 28-year-old Chiara Lemmolo said she felt frustrated and defeated.
"I see others who are more accomplished than me wearing themselves out and still getting nowhere. Why should it be any different for me? Why would I have ambitions when I have no future?" said the literature graduate.
Some of Lemmolo's fellow graduates have tried to get work experience in their chosen field in Italy but "the pitiful amount of pocket money they give you often doesn't even cover the bus fare," she said.
Others face a stark choice between accepting a fixed contract for a low-skilled job which allows them some financial independence, or continuing to live at home into their 30s while they do years of grinding work experience.
Thirty-three year old Maurizio Petralia was the first in his family to go to university and now works in a pub and pizzeria during the week to earn some spending money during his two-year unpaid training period at a law firm.
"I still live at home. My parents are worried about me, they've invested a lot of time and money in my degree," he said.
"My 22-year old brother started working when he was 15 in my dad's marble company. He's now much better off than me! I'm going to hang on in there for now but I wouldn't rule out going abroad," he added.
Even the head of one of Italy's top universities -- the Luiss in Rome -- is urging the country's young to abandon Italy, where "clan, political or family ties are the only way to get ahead."
In an open letter to his son, Pier Luigi Celli urged him to "go where loyalty, respect, merit and results are valued.
"This country does not deserve you. We wanted it to be different and we failed."