First Job programme, Poland


Public sector
Target Groups: 


The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej) designed a ‘First Job’ programme (Programu aktywizacji zawodowej absolwentow), which sought to protect secondary school graduates against unemployment and thereby reduce the scale of youth unemployment. This measure aimed at curbing the supply of undeclared workers by reducing the number of unemployed young people. The programme lasted from June 2002 until December 2005.



Before 2000, young people were not the main target of labour market policies. However, due to demographic patterns, a large wave of students started to finish secondary school around 2000, and the government began to design and implement programmes that would support the entry of young persons into the labour market.

In 2002 – the peak year of the entry of the baby boom cohort– some 694,000 persons were aged 19 years. About half of these students continued their education, but together with earlier cohorts the government expected that 520,000 persons would be looking for a first job. In December 2005, youth aged below 25 years accounted for 22.6% of all unemployed persons.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej) designed a ‘First Job’ programme (Programu aktywizacji zawodowej absolwentow), which sought to protect secondary school graduates against unemployment and thereby reduce the scale of youth unemployment. In so doing, the ministry hoped to curb the supply of undeclared work if fewer young people were unemployed and looking for alternative sources of work. The programme lasted from June 2002 until December 2005.

The main actors involved included: the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; regional public employment offices (Wojewodzkie Urzedy Pracy); individual employers; and vocational training institutions.

The target groups included young people aged below 25 years and, if they were secondary school graduates, below 27 years. On the demand side, the scheme targeted employers who are unwilling to employ young persons without prior job experience.


The First Job programme had three primary objectives:

  • to manage the transition from school to work of a large cohort of young people;
  • to offer job training to young people and to minimise the problem of a lack of job experience as an obstacle to youth employment;
  • to reduce the number of young people undertaking undeclared work.

Specific measures

The programme sought to increase the likelihood of young graduates finding a job, by offering employers a refund of social security contributions for the first 12 months of employment. In addition, the government introduced a scheme of refunded traineeships for those leaving secondary school and made loans available to entrepreneurs employing secondary school graduates. The First Job programme also included measures to support self-employment among young persons, such as subsidised loans for start-up enterprises, the temporary suspension of social security contributions, and the mentoring of young self-employed persons.

Evaluation and outcome

Achievement of objectives

In the period from June 2002 to December 2005, the programme involved 794,488 young unemployed persons. It was thus a project of unprecedented scale, at least in Poland. In 2005 alone, it included 271,855 young unemployed persons, offering them vocational training, work experience and subsidised employment. Work experience was the most popular provision, taken up by 56.1% of the young people; this was followed by training courses, which 15.5% of the programme participants pursued.

In principle, the main task of the programme was to offer a form of job experience to secondary school graduates. Thus, its effectiveness cannot fully be measured by the proportion of those who took up regular employment immediately after participating in the programme; according to ministerial data, approximately 84,137 persons or 30.1% of participants went on to take up regular jobs.

Obstacles and problems

The programme was launched in early 2002 by a government that had been in office since November 2001. This did not necessarily mean that the programme was not carefully designed, if Polish governments maintained a similar policy orientation and the policy was executed by qualified civil servants. Nevertheless, in the first year of implementation, the programme was not well budgeted and the government had to find additional funds to meet its targets.

Lessons learnt

The programme was not evaluated and the government abandoned the initiative shortly after the elections in the autumn of 2005.

The First Job programme addressed a real problem: the dilemma facing qualified but still inexperienced young persons in finding work. However, it seems that it filled the gap created by the low level of work experience offered to students within the education system in Poland rather than solving new problems.

Impact indicators

It has been estimated that about 30% of the programme’s participants found regular jobs after completing the project. However, Poland’s entry into the European Union on 1 May 2004 changed the options available to Polish young people as some countries – notably Ireland and the UK – have opened up their labour markets, and the country has experienced a considerable outflow of young persons in search of better paid jobs. In other words, many young people now decide to take their first job abroad.

As noted above, in the period from June 2002 to December 2005, the First Job programme involved 794,488 young unemployed persons.

Table 1: First Job programme participation, 2005
Instruments and services Number of youth participating % of participants
Work practice



Vocational preparation






Loans for the cost of training



Intervention works



Public works



Scholarships for the period of education



Job activation supplement



Refunding of workplace equipment costs



Loans for unemployed persons willing to start own business



Refunding of consulting and legal advice costs



Reimbursement of travel costs



Source: Ministry of Labour and Social Policy

In 2002 and 2003, the First Job programme annually drew PLN 1 billion (€276.5 million) from budgetary sources. For 2004 and 2005, the costs of the programme were estimated at PLN 1.2 billion (€331.7 million) a year. The scheme was discontinued in 2006, but the Ministry continues to use the logo of the programme for all ordinary measures directed at the work activation of young people.

Estimated benefits

‘First Job’ was a large-scale policy intervention. In 2002 alone, almost 119,000 people undertook subsidised work as a result of the scheme. In the same year, 51,000 people (30% more than in 2001) started ‘public intervention’ jobs and more than 33,000 unemployed people undertook ‘public works’ jobs. Other types of support for young persons searching for their first job consisted of vocational training courses and vocational counselling. In 2002, more than 68,000 unemployed people participated in training, which was 44% more than in 2001. After completing the courses, more than 20,000 of these people commenced employment. It is worth noting that the effectiveness of the training depended on its subject. More than 50% of participants found jobs after completing courses in occupational health and safety and in tourist services, but only 16% of participants found jobs after completing training in information technology (IT), while 22% of the young people found work after courses in economics, and another 22% found a job after training in commerce.

Additionally, in 2002, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy started to implement 238 special programmes financed by the Labour Fund, their main objective being the vocational activation of people belonging to risk groups in local labour markets. The programmes covered over 3,000 unemployed people, approximately 50% more beneficiaries than in 2001. Of these people, almost a third were women, almost half were long-term unemployed, and more than half lived in rural areas. A significant proportion of the programmes’ beneficiaries were people aged up to 24 years, secondary school graduates, and people who had no formal vocational qualifications.


The preliminary evaluation of this programme has pointed to a difference of preference between young persons and employers, with young people preferring to be employed with subsidised social security contributions and employers favouring subsidised traineeships.

The efficiency of labour market policies in Poland has been diminished by insufficient staffing and the below average occupational quality of people working in employment offices. Human resources at the employment offices were reduced from 22,000 persons in 1998 to 13,000 employees in 2003; in the latter year, the number of unemployed persons per member of staff in the unemployment offices amounted to 7,101 service users.

Job mobility has also been a feature among the personnel of the employment offices. Political patronage and low salaries are the main causes explaining the fact that within one year almost 50% staff turnover is reported (Boni, 2003). Moreover, the employment offices regularly use financial resources meant for employee training to pay the salaries of newly recruited personnel.

The First Job programme lasted until December 2005 when it was discontinued, as the programme had been deliberately designed to cushion the labour market entry of a demographic peak in the number of young people. It was also abandoned because of its high financial costs. Nonetheless, to date no comprehensive evaluation of the programme has been performed and little is known about the durability of its outcomes.


Poland appears to have created a broad and well developed set of instruments as part of its active labour market policy (ALMP). Yet, on average the country spends five to six times less than the average for the 15 former EU Member States before enlargement of the European Union in May 2004.

In addition to the low level of resources devoted to ALMP, the structure of spending is biased towards costly projects – such as intervention works or public works – that do not have a lasting impact on increasing the employability of those unemployed.

Table 2: Number of unemployed persons taking advantage of active labour market policy, 1998–2003 (in 000s)
  1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Number of unemployed persons in ALMP














Intervention works







Public works







Work experience







Proportion of unemployed persons with no right to unemployment benefits (%)







Source: National Statistics Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), various years

Labour market programmes in Poland seem to be of an ad hoc nature. Thus, the First Job programme lasted only 3.5 years and was introduced in response to the demographic pressure of secondary school leavers who were born at the beginning of the 1980s. As a result, 41.5% of the ALMP budget in 2002 was spent on the work activation of school leavers.

The official rationale for such a policy orientation – supporting the transition from schools to work of large cohorts – has to be supplemented by the observation that subsidised work practice and jobs for young people have been filling the gap that was created by the weak links between formal education and work. Students lack work experience, while potential employers complain that they have to invest in teaching secondary school leavers basic work habits.

Thus, employment offices are making up for the missing function of the formal education system in Poland by refunding the social security contributions of young people, by paying their wages or by paying a type of training grant.

Supporting the employment of young people has led to an increase in registered youth employment, but this outcome is easier to achieve than an increase in the employability of low-skilled workers or of people of pre-retirement age. The lack of statistical data about the implementation of the programme prevents an analysis from excluding the possibility that the First Job programme subsidised the jobs of young people who would have become employed anyway without such support. It is also impossible to say to what extent the subsidised work of youth led to the accelerated retirement of older workers.

No data exist to determine to what extent the First Job programme has increased the skills and qualifications of young people as no information is available about the type of jobs performed by the programme participants.


Main organisation responsible: Ministry of Labour and Social Policy



Boni, M., Labour market expectations and the operational programme development of human resources, paper to the Polish Confederation of Private Employers ‘Lewiatan’ (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych ‘Lewiatan’, PKPP Lewiatan), Warsaw, January 2007.

Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Informacja o realizacji programu aktywizacji zawodowej absolwentow ‘Pierwsza Praca’ [Information about the implementation of the ‘First Job’ programme], Warsaw, March 2006.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Social exclusion and integration in Poland, Warsaw, June 2007.

Aleksander Surdej


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