Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -
Vocational education has fallen out of fashion in Poland, much to the detriment of Polish companies, which now have a hard time finding skilled labour. Companies are trying to solve the problem by bringing in workers from abroad and offering those skilled workers they can find in Poland wages that university graduates hardly ever see.
While Poland’s overall unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing and stood at 10% in August, according to the most recent data from the statistical office GUS, the unemployment rate in the 15-24 age cohort was 19.8% in Q2.
Most of these young people will have graduated from high school and enrolled in universities, many of them private ones with only basic equipment and financing, only enough to provide the cheapest studies such as arts and humanities. While it was certainly true that a degree – any degree - from a higher education institution helped a generation of young Poles to get better jobs throughout the 1990s, this does not appear to be the case for today’s 20-somethings.
The conviction that only a university, or an equivalent, education matters on the labour market has led to a crisis in vocational education. As university-level diplomas multiplied and their quality suffered, companies are now finding themselves stuck for skilled labour.
The number of vocational schools fell from around 3,000 in the school year 1990/1991 to about 1,700 in 2013/2014. The number of technical schools, teaching professional skills at a higher level, came down from over 3,500 in 1990/1991 to less than 2,500 in 2013/2014. At the same time, the number of higher educational institutions grew from 300 to 460.
The result is that the labour market cannot absorb some 400,000 graduates with BA or MA degrees leaving universities each year, while there is a shortage of skilled labour, with only 150,000 young people leaving vocational education each year. That is well short of the 400,000 vacancies that Polish companies are estimated to have. The problem is accentuated by Polish emigration to Western Europe in search of better salaries.
Should the 400,000 vacancies in skilled labour jobs fill quickly, it would increase Polish economic growth by 1.4%, according to employers’ organisation Pracodawcy RP. “The lack of people with mid-level skills is putting a brake on the development of the Polish economy,” professor Elzbieta Krynska told newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on October 2.
Companies are trying to solve the problem in two ways. First, they reach out to labourers from abroad, mainly Ukraine, especially in agriculture, construction, and industry. According to data from Poland’s labour ministry, some 400,000 Ukrainians found jobs in those sectors just in the first six months of 2015.
But companies would prefer to find Polish workers because it’s easier to employ them than someone who needs a visa. To that end, companies are offering entry-level salaries for jobs such as carpenter, turner, slater, or locomotive engineer far above the entry-level salaries for university graduates. Some companies are teaming up with local government and educational authorities in an effort to revive vocational and technical schools.
According to data from Work Service, a labour market analytics company, a carpenter can make a monthly gross salary of PLN3,000 (€706) right after school. The salary for a turner is even higher at PLN4,500. University graduates are less likely to land jobs in line with their education and they have to be content with salaries of around PLN2,000. The average gross monthly salary in Poland was PLN4,025, according to GUS data in September.
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