(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 3 - Italy needs to create 1.7 million jobs to be able to return to the employment levels it had before the global economic crisis started in 2008, the International Labour Organization said Monday. "Since the second quarter of 2008, the Italian economy has shed roughly 600,000 jobs," read the Snapshot of Italy in the ILO's World of Work Report 2013. "Given that the working-age population has grown over this period by approximately 1.1 million, Italy needs to create roughly 1.7 million jobs to restore employment rates to pre-crisis levels". The United Nations agency pointed out that unemployment in Italy, which is enduring its longest recession in over 20 years after seven straight quarters of negative growth, has increased sharply since the beginning of the crisis. It was 6.1% in 2007 but stood at 11.2% in the last quarter of 2012 after climbing "almost uninterrupted". Unemployment reached 12% in April, national statistics agency Istat said last week, with around four in 10 people aged 15 to 24 on the dole. Istat also said recently that Italy has Europe's highest proportion of young people doing "nothing", with almost a quarter of 15-to-29-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET). "The challenge of finding employment in Italy has been particularly acute for young persons aged 15-24," the ILO report said. Premier Enrico Letta has said fighting unemployment, especially among young people, will be a priority of his left-right coalition government, which was sworn in late in April. He successfully pushed for unemployment to be the focus of this month's summit of European Union leaders and has said his government will have a national action plan against youth unemployment in place before that meeting. But the ILO report said Letta should work to improve the quality of jobs on the labour market, not just the quantity. "Precarious employment (either involuntary fixed contracts or involuntary part-time), has also become widespread," read the Snapshot of Italy. "Since 2007, the number of precarious workers increased by 5.7 percentage points, reaching almost 32% of those employed in 2012... "It will be important to monitor and evaluate the recent proposal of reducing by one-third the time period in-between two consecutive fixed-term contracts. "As precarious employment continues to rise, greater efforts may be merited to incentivise the conversion of fixed term contracts to permanent ones". The report said temporary employment had become more widespread in Italy following controversial labour-market reforms introduced last year by ex-premier Mario Monti's emergency technocrat administration that, among other things, made it easier for firms in financial trouble to dismiss staff. The ILO also warned Rome not to try to generate jobs for young people with schemes that encourage companies to simply replace older workers. "When considering the recent proposal of job-sharing among youth and older workers it is important to note that youth and adults are not substitutes in the labour market," the report said. "Indeed, contact with more experienced workers can provide mentoring, instil good workplace practices, and help to dispel misconceptions regarding the attitudes of youth".