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EACEA National Policies Platform


3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.1 General context

Last update: 31 March 2022

Labour market situation in the country

General context

According to Statistics Austria, the Austrian population shows a continuous grow since 1919. As of early 2020, Austria has about 8.901 million inhabitants19.3% of the population were children and young people under the age of 20, and 61.6% were aged between 20 and 64 years. More general and up to date (2021) information is available in the Overview.

The Federal Ministry of Labourleads national policy on the labour market. For entrepreneurship, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairsholds important responsibilities. Concerning youth employment and entrepreneurship, they work alongside the Department for Family and Youth at the Federal Chancellery. Social partners, namely the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer, AK), the Austrian Economic Chambers (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKÖ), and the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (Landwirtschaftskammer, LKO) hold a very important and strong position in Austria. The Chamber of Labour represents the interests of 3,4 million employees and consumers and offers a large and diverse variety of services. The Austrian Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) is provides labour-market related services and contributes to preventing and eradicating unemployment in Austria.

In Austria, labour market policy (Arbeitsmarktpolitik) includes all measures taken by public institutions - such as the federal government, the Public Employment Service and the federal provinces - to manage the labour market. A regulated labour market is viewed to have positive effects on the social system and to ensure fair economic competition. According to the Labour Market Service Act (Arbeitsmarktservicegesetz), labour market policy has the tasks of preventing and eliminating unemployment and bringing labour supply and demand together as completely and sustainably as possible, while observing social and economic principles. The objectives of labour market policy are inter alia the achievement and maintainance of full employment, taking active measures for qualification and equal opportunities, increasing the transparency of the labour market, developing human resources, activating the unemployed, and combating long-term unemployment. Active labour market policies shall support a better functioning of the labour market.

Current Labour Market Situation (including pandemic data)

According to the national definition, the total unemployment rate in Austria reached 7.3% in February 2022. This development was largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures such as lockdowns. However, compared to the previous year, this means a decrease of 3.3%. Similarly, the February 2022 unemployment rate for young people under 25 was 8.9%. Compared to the previous year, this means a decrease of 34.4%.This high rate is still among the lowest in the EU. Unemployment rates are expected to further decline in the coming months.

In 2021, secondary school graduates experienced the highest relative increase in unemployment rates (+36.9%) when compared to the year prior. With an ascent of 24.0%, university graduates faced the lowest relative increase in unemployment rates out of all educational graduates. When considering youth however, young people with a higher level of education saw a relative increase in unemployment by 36.7% while the relative inclines for individuals with an apprenticship education or the maximum level of compulsory education amounted to 30.5% and 29.3%.

The 2021 proportion of young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) in all adolescents (15 to 24 years) was 8,5%. According to a 2019 report by the Public Employment Service Austria (Arbeitsmarktlage 2020), the average unemployment period was 126 days and thus an average of 5 days longer than in 2019.

With a look at the previous economic crisis, Eurostat data from 2013 showed the Austrian youth unemployment rate (under-25-year-olds) at 9.2%. Even though the rate rose slightly in 2013, youth unemployment overall in Austria was declining in 2009-2013 - despite renewed turbulence in the aftermath of the international financial, economic and debt crisis. In 2012, according to the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan (YGIP), the unemployment rate of 15-24-year-olds amounted to 8.7% (among the lowest in the EU). The average duration of being registered unemployed was 69 days (72 days for 20-24-year-olds and 57 days for up-to-19-year-olds). The risk of becoming unemployed was considerably higher for those having at most compulsory education (20.9%), while being much lower for those who finished secondary (depending on the type of school 6.5-3.4%) or tertiary education (2.7%). On average 78 700 young people between 15 and 24 (7.8%) were neither in formal education nor employed in 2012. The Austrian early-school-leaving rate has been on a decreasing trend and stood at 7.6% in 2012. Also, the number of persons with less than upper secondary education had fallen from 14.3% to 10.6% in a time frame of ten years, while the share of persons with tertiary education had risen from 21.0% to 26.0%.

Main concepts

Young people's pathway to the labour market

In Austria, compulsory schooling lasts for nine years (Allgemeine Schulpflicht). In 2016, the Compulsory Formation Act (Ausbildungspflichtgesetz) was passed. Everyone under the age of 18 is obliged to attend school, vocational training or a preparatory programme, even after completion of the nine year compulsory schooling period. The programme is called Education until 18 (AusBildung bis 18). It shall prevent early school leaving and reduce youth unemployment, while providing all young people with equal opportunities and a good start into (working) life.

Anyone from age 15 on can take on a job after completion of compulsory schooling. Young people from age 15 on may be employed under certain conditions as an apprenticeship or practical training. Children and young people up to the age of 18 years are covered by child and youth employment legislation. Due to the dual vocational training system, in Austria employment and entrepreneurship are closely related to education.

Youth employment policy

A wide range of programmes to promote the integration of young people into the education system and the labour market exists, ranging from well-developed services for vocational information including specialised vocational information centres, the nationwide placement service of the Public Employment Service for apprenticeship positions, subsidies for company-based apprenticeships, individual promotion within the Public Employment Service, to support for the transition from school to working life.

The Youth Guarantee Plan lays out the Austrian measures and programmes. In 2008, the Training guarantee was established in order to give all young people a chance to complete a vocational education. Further programmes and strategies have been developed that aim at reducing drop-outs, increasing the permeability in the education system and allowing catching up an educational qualification. A scheme of mandatory education/formation until the age of 18 called Education until 18 (AusBildung bis 18) was introduced to keep all youth in education or training. 'Youth Coaching' (Jugendcoaching) and the programme AusbildungsFit ('ready for training') were introduced to assist young people in finding and achieving their vocational pathway, and an inter-ministerial steering group was set up for their implementation. A nation-wide office of assistance at the interface between school and work (BundesKOST) coordinates the interface between school and work for young people. These measures are depicted in more detail in the specific sub-chapters.

Youth unemployment

In terms of youth (un)employment, Austria has traditionally held a comparatively advantaged position in Europe. However, not least the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the challenges and unemployment ratesof young people on the Austrian labour market. This is likely to result from a multitude of reasons, among which is decreased rate of recruiting of new employees which especially impacts young people first entering the labour market. It was met with a specific governmental taskforce on youth unemployment.

As well as the generally relatively low unemployment rate, one major reason for this rather good integration of young people into the employment system is seen in the highly developed system of initial vocational education and training (apprenticeship training, VET schools and colleges). Both participation in training and VET are comparatively high in Austria. 'The dual apprenticeship training, in particular, creates a good position for Austria. Despite the relatively favourable starting position of Austria, the impact of the international financial, economic and debt crisis affected young people in particular. The youth unemployment rate rose more than the unemployment rate of older workers(over-25-year-olds). It can be assumed that the main cause for this disproportionate increase of youth unemployment during the economic crisis is that many companies tried, if possible, to keep their current (older) staff while the number of new recruitments (of younger people) droped sharply.

The Austrian Youth Guarantee

The Austrian Youth Guarantee consists of two key measures: the Training Guarantee and Future for the Youth. Every young person up to the age of 18 is guaranteed an apprenticeship position after registering with the AMS. Young people up to 25 receive an offer in line with the council recommendation (as an apprenticeship position, employment, education or formation or subsidised employment) by the AMS within a period of three months.

In addition to this measures, a focus is placed on outreach activities to reach those young people not registered at the Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) and help them to find (further) education or get registered with the AMS (as e.g. youth coaching and low-threshold offers). Furthermore, strategies have been developed to ease the school-to-work transition and reduce dropouts (e.g. ESL strategy).

2018 data shows that an average of only 28% of adolescents that registered in the Youth Guarantee (YG) preparatory phase had been waiting for a labour offer longer than 4 months which is well below the EU average of 48.6%. On the other hand, 52.9% of the young people that exited the YG during that year accepted a known offer within 4 months of registration which, once again, was better than the EU average of 46.7%.

Austria still faces some challenges in terms of improving basic skills for disadvantaged adolescents and young people with a migrant background, especially in the sense of ameliorating regional differences. However, as of the January 2020 government program, these obstacles are met with promising countermeasures.

Looking at the implementation of the Youth Guarantee, Austria is certain to perform very well. Data also shows that it has a lower national average of early leavers from education and training among adolescents aged 18-24 and a decreased NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) rate among young people between the age of 15 and 24 when compared to the EU average. Additionally, youth employment rates of the population aged 15-24 exceed the EU average.

Young people with a migration background

A special challenge for the Austrian VET system is the integration of young people with a migration background into the training and employment system. In general, these people leave their respective VET programme more often prematurely and are also underrepresented in the apprenticeship training sector.

Dual Training System: Vocational Training and Apprenticeships

Vocational training is provided in Austria either through an apprenticeship or through school-based education (in intermediate or higher-level secondary technical and vocational schools and colleges, which offer practice-oriented instruction). Training is offered in approximately 200 different occupations. Young people who take up an apprenticeship receive on-the-job training in a company and also attend a vocational school on a part-time basis (dual training system). An apprenticeship lasts between two to four years depending on the apprenticeship type and ends with the successful completion of a final apprenticeship examination (Lehrabschlussprüfung). The Austrian system of apprenticeships is further depicted in the EU Apprenticeship toolbox.

For apprentices, the Vocational Training Act (Berufsausbildungsgesetz) and respective collective agreement are valid. Apprenticeship programs are based on standard job profiles. Apprentices are not paid a salary but receive an apprenticeship remuneration (Lehrlingsentschädigung) normally paid on a monthly basis. The amount of remuneration to be paid to the apprentice is based on collective labour agreements as well as company agreements. An apprenticeship contract (Lehrvertrag) must be signed the beginning of the apprenticeship and is to be concluded in writing between the young person (the apprentice) and the authorized trainer and specifies training conditions including the duration of the apprenticeship. In the case of minors, the apprentice’s legal guardian is also required to sign the contract.

Number of apprentices and training companies

As opposed to statistics from a few years prior, data shows that towards the end of December 2021, there were 107,593 apprentices in Austria which represents a total decline of 1,518 individuals compared to 2019. This decrease results from the measures taken to counteract the COVID-19 pandemic, as was also foreseen in the the Report on the Situation of Youth Employment and Apprentice Training in Austria (Bericht zur Situation der Jugendbeschäftigung und Lehrlingsausbildung in Österreich). 

Statistics regarding training companies show a similar trend: eventhough their decline finally came to a halt in 2018, the numerical development of Austrian training companies still shows an overall decrease from 38,132 training companies in 2007 to 27,844 in 2019.    

Apprenticeship and self-employment

Apprenticeship training additionally offers good conditions for entrepreneurship: According to the 2013 Labour Force Survey, 35% of all self-employed in Austria have an apprenticeship certificate as their highest qualification. Therefore, apprenticeship training is by far the most important qualification of self-employed people in Austria and also a good base for setting up a company.

Unemployment insurance and job referral

The Austrian Public Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) is responsible for unemployment insurance benefits in Austria (such as unemployment benefits or social welfare benefits). It offers its services in regional AMS offices and is responsible for consultation, job referral, financial support and ensuring livelihood (e.g. through unemployment benefits and emergency assistance benefits) for persons who are permanent residents of Austria and are currently residing in Austria. The EURES-publication Living & Working in Austria by the AMS gives a detailed overview of the subject.

Forms of work and employment

In broad outlines, the Austrian labour law (Arbeitsrecht) distinguishes between the following forms of employment:

  • Employment contract (Arbeitsvertrag): concluded between an employer and a dependent employee, who thus receives extensive protection by labour law.
  • Contract for independent work & labour (Werkvertrag) and 'employee-like' workers: includes both those employed on the basis of a contract for work and services, who require a business license, and in certain cases 'new self-employed persons'
  • Short-term contract as independent contractors: concluded between a principal (i.e. customer) and an independent contractor.
  • Self-employment (Selbständigkeit): entrepreneurship
Labour Law Acts and Regulations

Austrian labour law covers the rights and obligations of employees and employers. This includes amongst others the following legal regulations and acts of law:

Social security

Registration of employees with the appropriate social security institution is compulsory (Österreichische Sozialversicherung). The payment of social security contributions is shared by the employer and employee. The employer is responsible for paying both shares to the responsible social security institution and for registering their employees with the appropriate social security institution. Every person and the family members are assigned a social security number at registration. The employer automatically deducts social security contributions of employees and independent contractors at source. The amount of social security contributions depends on the single contract.

Those self-employed with a business license, new self-employed, and contract assignees have to register with and pay their social security contributions to the corresponding social security institution.

There are several health insurance and social security institutions (Krankenkassen und Sozialversicherungsanstalten) in Austria. All health insurance institutions are brought together under the umbrella of the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions (Hauptverband der Österreichischen Sozialversicherungsträger). The competent insurance institution is determined by the type of occupation. A free choice of insurance institution is not allowed.

Health insurance (Krankenversicherung) covers amongst others free treatment by medical doctors (with appropriate contracts with the insurance institutions), hospitals and sickness benefits. The prerequisite for treatment at hospitals, medical practices, and walk-in clinics is the presentation of an electronic health insurance card (E-Card) where all personal data of the insured person are stored. For a referral to specialists, a referral note is additionally required. The back of the e-card corresponds to the European social security card.

Health insurance coverage is available for
  • employed or self-employed persons (minimum income employees receive health insurance upon application),
  • persons receiving unemployment benefit/welfare benefit or pension benefit,
  • or persons receiving a weekly maternity allowance or childcare allowance.

Means-tested minimum benefits are foreseen for people having no reasonable funds to pay for their living or of their family members. The amount of the means-tested minimum benefits had been uniformly regulated throughout Austria up until 2019 and amounted to an annual average across all provinces of €538.00 for single households in the same year, excluding values for Vorarlberg from the calculation. They are not a social security benefit but a reformed social welfare of the federal provinces. The affected unemployed should in particular benefit from the introduction of a uniform minimum benefit, the broad removal of recourse, introduction of an asset exemption amount and advantageous procedural law.

EURES-publication Living & Working in Austria

This brochure gives first English insights into the Austrian labour market, as well as a list of further sources of information.

Taskforce Youth Unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic

In a recent survey on 'Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth and the youth sector', the federal government established several measures to support the current situation of young people in regard to the labour market.

Incentives to employers to hire young people
  • Apprenticeship Bonus (March 2021 – October 2020)

A bonus that ensured companies €2,000 for newly admitted apprentices. Micro enterprises received an additional raise of €1,000 and smaller enterprises received an additional bonus of €500. The fundamental criterion here was the date of the apprenticeship contract.

  • Take-over bonus

A one-off bonus that ensures companies €1,000 for taking on an apprentice from a supra-company apprenticeship. More information can be found online.  

Measures that protect young employees

More recently, corona short-time work was also made available for apprentices in order to preserve apprenticeship positions and to support the companies. In 2020, approximately half of all apprentices (approximately 53,000) were working under short-time work conditions at least temporarily. The seemingly positive effect of short-time work for apprentices is visible when inspecting the stable development of apprenticeship numbers in training companies which is why this concept was extended until the end of June 2022.

Measures to avoid job insecurity and precariousness 

To raise the number of apprenticeship positions in supra-company apprenticeships (Überbetriebliche Lehrausbildung ÜBA), the Training Guarantee was extended, and additional funds were made accessible. Thus, the number of apprenticeship positions in supra-company apprenticeships increased by 3,000 to 14,500 places. This measure targets young people, willing to start an apprenticeship but unable to find an in-company apprenticeship position. More information can be found at the Public Employment Services (PES; Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS).

Measures regarding information on employment 
  • Online apprentice service

The PES has created an online apprenticeship service, encompassing all the important information on finding an apprenticeship for young people and transmitting that to an expert advisor. As a result, personal interviews can be arranged with a preferred appointment.

  • Information line for coaching for apprentices and companies offering apprenticeships

Established in April 2020, this information line handles the great influx of COVID-19-induced questions concerning apprenticeships.

Adaptations in career guidance and counselling 

Expansion of low-threshold offers: the low threshold offers - Youth Coaching, AubsildungsFit (core-measures) - are being strengthened in 2021.

Interministerial taskforce on youth employment

Increasing the number of public apprenticeship places.