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The question of youth employment is one of the country’s key public policy areas. High youth unemployment has been a persistent characteristic of the Polish labour market since the regime change 1989. In the first 15 years of the market economy, the difficult situation of school graduates was largely due to the general conditions in the labour market, including: shortage of labour demand (the economy was not creative enough to provide new jobs), large supply of workforce (a period of intense demographic pressure associated with baby boomers entering the labour market), mismatch between the occupation and qualification structure of the population and the changing labour market needs, and imperfect institutional arrangements to support the unemployed (according to: Study of the Professional Activity of Graduates in the Context of Implementation of the First Job Programme. [Badanie aktywności zawodowej absolwentów w kontekście realizacji programu „Pierwsza praca”. Raport], Ministry Labour and Social Policy, Warsaw 2008.). Those factors determined the professional fate of all Poles, including graduates of various types of schools. However, in spite of being exposed to the same set of circumstances arising from changes in the labour market, the youth unemployment rate had always been higher than that among older generations.
The market economy brought higher educational expectations and more opportunities for the education of young people, especially at third level. One contributing factor was the partial privatisation of higher education, which caused a snowballing increase in the number of those institutions. In the 2016/2017 academic year, 1,348,800 people were studying at 390 third-level schools, compared to just over 400,000 people in 112 schools in 1990/1991. After many years of increase in number of higher education institutions, since the academic year 2010/2011 a decrease can be observed (this situation affects mainly private higher education institutions). The gross enrolment ratio in higher education increased during that time from 12.9% in the academic year 1990/1991 to 53,8% in 2010/2011. After 2011 it began to decrease and in the academic year 2016/2017 was at the level of 47,4% . Higher education began to be treated as a remedy for, and a chance to avoid, unemployment. At the same time, there was a decrease in interest in vocational training among young people and a marginalisation of vocational education.
In the first decades of the political transformation, the main action taken by the state for the youth was a policy of counteracting unemployment. Before the accession of Poland to the EU (2004), the youth (under 25 years old) unemployment rate exceeded 40% and was the highest among Member States (Eurostat).
The persistent lack of jobs and satisfactory career prospects for increasingly better educated young people resulted in mass emigration after the opening of the EU labour market. According to estimates by the Central Statistical Office of Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny - GUS), at the end of 2016 around 2 515 000 Polish people were temporarily living outside of Poland, i.e. 118 000 (4,7%) more than in 2015. In Europe alone, in 2016 there were about 2 214 000 Polish people, with the vast majority – about 2 096 000 – living in the Member States of the EU countries, the highest number was in the United Kingdom (788 000), Germany (687 000), the Netherlands (116 000), and Ireland (112 000).
The mass emigration, the increase in financial outlays for active labour market policies (ALMP) targeted at young people (e.g. from public and European funds), and the growth of jobs in the economy have all contributed to the gradual decrease in youth unemployment.
However, the increase in employment was achieved through the development of various forms of unstable employment. Young people were often employed on temporary contracts or civil law contracts (without social security contributions being paid for them). According to Eurostat estimates, in 2014 more than half of the people employed in Poland aged 15 to 29 worked on fixed-term contracts, which was the highest share of this type of employment in the EU (Eurostat). The lack of stable employment did not allow for building sustainable professional careers of young employees and young people themselves experienced a strong feeling of social inequality. As a result, an overrepresentation of young people found themselves in a category known as the working poor.
The gap between the qualifications and skills of graduates and the needs of the economy and the labour market had also been widening.
The high unemployment rate among young people, the rise of unstable employment and the mass emigration of young people have prompted the authors of reports on youth to label them as the “lost generation”, a dreary prospect that could only be averted by decisive action through public policies (a report prepared on the initiative of the government, The Youth of 2011, 2011: 180).
Poland has been actively involved in the implementation of the EU Youth Employment Package (2012) designed to boost employment among young people. In December 2013, a roadmap for the implementation of the Youth Guarantee Initiative was developed. Poland, as an EU Member State with more than 25% of youth unemployment (persons aged 15 to 24), has been provided with support through the Youth Employment Initiative and is expected to receive EUR 550 million from EU funds.
2016 - 2020
The situation on the labour market in Poland has been constantly improving since 2016 (until the 1st quarter of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic begun). The registered unemployment rate fell below 10% and in consequence, Poland has become an attractive country for foreign workers and the labour market gradually became worker-oriented. Between 2016-2019 a systematic increase of work permits issued for forigners was observed. In 2019 there were 447 000 such permits issued - an increase by 116 000 comparing to 2018 and by 379 000 in 2015.
At the same time, employers are reporting shortages of workers with increasing frequency, including high-end professionals as well as skilled and unskilled workers (e.g. for seasonal jobs in agriculture or cleaning jobs). Since 2016 migration reports and public opinion polls have been showing a decline in youth declarations regarding the desire to emigrate for work, which is linked to the improved situation in the labour market.
In current governmental documents, the issues of youth employment and the development of entrepreneurship among young people are a priority.
The Strategy for Responsible Development until 2020 (with a forecast up to 2030), adopted by the Council of Ministers on 14 February 2017, is a key document of the Polish state in the area of medium- and long-term economic policy. Internal factors hindering sustainable economic growth, which have a negative impact on the stable development prospects of Poland, include some factors directly connected with the employment and entrepreneurship of young people:
- unfavourable demographic processes – such as ageing of the population and migration from Poland, which has a negative effect on the prospects of providing appropriately qualified and creative workers;
- too few well-paid (and stable) creative jobs, especially in rural areas, guaranteeing professional self-realisation and generating high added value for the economy;
- relatively low and inefficient use of available and potential labour resources, a mismatch between qualifications and market needs, etc.;
- the growth and competitiveness of businesses is based on cost factors (including low labour costs);
- low innovativeness of the economy resulting mainly from insufficient incentives for undertaking innovative activities, low demand for new technologies among Polish companies, low efficiency of co-operation between the academic/research sector, administration, and business.
The main objective of the Strategy is to create conditions for increasing the incomes of the inhabitants of Poland, while increasing cohesion in social, economic, environmental and territorial terms. The Strategy is oriented towards responsible and solidary development through strengthening entrepreneurship, inventiveness and productivity in the economy. These assumptions create the basis for promotion of employment and entrepreneurship of young people.
The situation on the labour market in Poland is improving, however is still unsatisfactory. Compared to other age groups, young people in Poland (under 25 years old) are characterised by a very low professional activity rate (only 35%) and low employment rate. In the 4th quarter of 2019 only 34,9% of people aged 15-24 were professionaly active, while the employment rate for this age group was at the level of 32,1%. The main reason for the lack of professional activity is studying and other types of qualification development (for as much as 90% of 15-24 years old who are not professionally active). The unemployment rate in the age group of 15-24 years old was 7,9 in the 4th quarter of 2019.
Young people in Poland are in a more vulnerble position on the Polish labour market than other age groups, because of the lack of professional experience and skills mismatch. Young people, in order to increase their chances on the labour market often increase their skills and competences through lifelong learning. According to a study by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) of 2018, the most common responce to unemployment are training courses (29% of respondents). Pursuing education at the tertiary educatio institution has noted a decline - from 15% in 2008 to only 8% in 2018. Going abroad for work is still an alternative for young Poles (26% of respondents), as well as staring a business (12%). The following answers were given:
- training courses - 19%
- going abroad - 25%
- taking any job, not necessairly in my profession - 19%
- starting a business - 12%
- pursuing education - 8%
- moving to another city - 5%
- not doing anything at all - 1%
The same study demonstrates that only one in ten respondents was against starting a business and one in three could not say whether they would ever start a business or not.
In the recent years, with the decline of unemployment rates, the attitudes of young Poles towards the labour market and their chances of finding a job change.Between 2013 and 2018 the percentage of young Poles who were afraid of not finding employment declined from 63% to 30%. At the same time, the percentage of those who believe they will find a job increased from 36% to 70%. Young Poles believe more and more often that finding employment depends on their individual skills, competences, courage and sense of entrepreneurship, rather than on connections.
Segmentation of the labour market, covering some categories of young people, is still ongoing. Persons with low qualifications or living in economically underdeveloped areas continue to have problems obtaining stable employment contracts, and receive low wages in low-satisfaction jobs. Difficulties with the work/life balance also continue to exist for those with young children, which particularly limits the professional activity of women. Disabled school graduates face problems with entry into the labour market, even after they have received a higher education diploma. There is still an unfavourable institutional environment for setting up one’s own businesses, despite the announced changes.
A worrying phenomenon is the increase in the category of young people with various deficits that remain outside the labour market. These include young people from poor families, multiple children families, incomplete families, pathological or dysfunctional families with incapable caregivers, children who leave orphanages, foster families, penitentiaries and correctional institutions, young parents, young mothers, persons with low education and qualifications, early school leavers, people with disabilities, and chronically ill people.
The activities of public institutions in relation to these categories of young people are insufficient and often inaccurate. Various non-governmental organisations (often carrying out unique and highly successful projects) offer their support, but this is limited in scope because of the poor condition, in economic and human resource terms, of this sector in Poland.
The missing labour force is offset by mainly Ukrainian workers. In 2016, businesses declared that they had employed 1.3 million people under the simplified procedure of employing foreigners. More than one million are Ukrainians. According to data from the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy, the highest demand was for workers in menial jobs (750,000). The next highest groups were businesses which required industrial workers (247,000), machine operators (112,000), service workers and salespersons (65,000). Other occupational groups represented 10% of all declarations.
Covid-19 pandemic influenced the demand for labour in Poland. So far, as of the second quarter of 2020, no significant negative effects, such as the increase of unemployment rates among young people, have been noted as a result of government support initiatives. A study carried out by PWC demonstrated that young Poles anre more and more interested in an employment that guarantees stability (preferably with a permanent employment contract).