Voluntary Work Teams, Poland


Public sector
Target Groups: 

The Voluntary Work Teams (Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy, OHP) function as a state-run budgetary unit supervised by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS). They provide educational activities for teenagers and young people aged below 25 years who have not completed their formal education and need to combine school with vocational training. Ultimately, the aim of the OHP is to prevent unemployed young people from taking up undeclared work.


The Voluntary Work Teams (Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy, OHP) represent a relatively old institution in Poland promoting youth education. In 2004, the OHP structure was transformed into a labour market institution, based on the Act on Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions.

The OHP function as a state-run budgetary unit supervised by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS). It provides educational activities for teenagers and young people aged under 25 years who, for personal and family reasons, have not completed their formal education and need to combine school classes with additional vocational training.

The OHP operate within the legal framework created by the following pieces of legislation:

  • the Act on Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions of 20 April 2004 (Journal of Laws of 2004, No. 99, item 1,001), which gave the OHP the status of a labour market institution;
  • the Law on the Educational System of 7 September 1991 (Journal of Laws of 1996, No. 67, item 329, uniform text with amendments), which defines the educational tasks of the OHP;
  • the Regulation of the Minister of the Economy (Ministerstwo Gospodarki) of 30 December 2004, which defines the specific tasks and organisational structure of the OHP (Journal of Laws of 2005, No. 6, item 41).

The actors involved in the work of the OHP include: various OHP centres, MPiPS, craft chambers, local governments and employers.

The initiative began in January 1990, with the organisation’s mandate being renewed in 2004, and is still ongoing. The main target group of the project includes young people in danger of social marginalisation and criminalisation.


The main objective of the OHP is to run educational and vocational training activities in order to combat the social marginalisation and social exclusion of young persons. It intends to achieve this by creating a system that offers help to groups of the most vulnerable individuals, by organising and supporting various forms of escape from poverty and social deprivation, and by supporting various forms of vocational training and guidance. Ultimately, the OHP aim to prevent unemployed young persons from taking up undeclared work.

Specific measures

The OHP undertake many activities aimed at creating proper conditions for the general and professional education of young persons, developing their general and professional qualifications or retraining them. Alongside these activities, the OHP prepare and carry out preventative, educational, and rehabilitation projects for young persons who are in danger of social marginalisation and criminalisation. Every year, the OHP work with about 32,000 young people who spend their time in training and in centres that support their upbringing.

In all, the OHP are divided into about 400 centres, which young people can visit. The poorest young persons participating in OHP activities are entitled to a free place in a dormitory, with full board and lodging. The teachers and educators employed at OHP centres cooperate with various institutions and organisations from the local community – such as the local police, educational institutions and health clinics – which are experienced in dealing with youth problems.

Young persons have access to training in relation to 62 professions. This preparation takes the form of a general vocational training course and sometimes more specialised training for specific work. Vocational training prepares the young people to work as apprentices or skilled workers; it also includes practical work experience in cooperating companies. The vocational training takes at least 24 months and at most 36 months. At the end of the training, the young people will sit an exam organised by the employer or completed in the presence of an examination committee of the crafts chamber, after which each candidate gains the title of ‘skilled worker’ from an employer or ‘apprentice’ from a crafts chamber.

Evaluation and outcome

Achievement of objectives

To date, the operations of the OHP have not been comprehensively evaluated by external analysts. The organisation itself has been using a number of indicators to show rather than prove its usefulness and effectiveness.

For example, in terms of achievements, the OHP have provided the following indicators:

  • the number of young people studying at OHP centres on an annual basis reaches about 32,000 persons;
  • the proportion of young persons who undertake and successfully pass vocational certification examinations amounts to 81.4% – the success rate of participants in the external examinations for crafts chamber certificates has been even higher at 86.2%;
  • the number of young people who benefited from other services offered by OHP centres, including job placements, totalled about 150,000 in 2006; an additional 200,000 young people took part in personal and professional development counselling in the various OHP Job Clubs.

After Poland’s accession to the EU on 1 May 2004, the OHP began to participate in labour market activation programmes and attracted additional resources to combat youth problems. In 2007, the OHP ran a number of youth projects co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) such as:

  • ‘OHP for schools’ which can be accessed through a national online thematic portal (available at: www.ohpdlaszkoly.pl) offering educational and vocational information to young persons and career guidance teachers;
  • ‘Your knowledge – Your success’, realised within the framework of Measure 1.5 scheme (b) on the ‘promotion of active social policy in support of high-risk groups’ within the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2004–2006. The project’s most important objective was the social and professional activation of young persons in danger of social exclusion by encouraging them to re-enter the educational system, adapting occupations to suit their needs, and helping them to become more independent. Almost 20,000 young persons took part in all three phases of the project. In 2004 and 2005, the project’s budget totalled in excess of PLN 50 million (about €13.8 million as at 30 January 2008).

Obstacles and problems

The OHP are a relatively established labour market structure which have taken on new duties. They also try to modernise their tasks in order to better meet the needs of young people today – during the socialist past, the organisation was intended to teach basic vocational skills to mostly blue-collar workers.

Due to legal changes, from 2004 onwards, the OHP have become the second-most important labour market institution – after the public employment offices – and attract ever more funding and run large projects financed from European structural funds.

Except for the frequent changes of OHP’s top management, no data yet exist on whether a structural fit (or misfit) is evident between the organisation’s structure and personnel and its new tasks.

Lessons learnt

Over the years, the OHP have been embedded in the landscape of local institutions in Poland and manage large resources in terms of the number of staff employed and the buildings acquired.

Some years ago, the OHP could have been expected to close down as they were losing relevance in the new socioeconomic context. However, it seems that the OHP have re-emerged stronger and more powerful than before. This transformation may have been supported by speculative factors, such as the need to strengthen labour market institutions in view of larger funds coming into Poland as a result of EU membership.

Impact indicators

The core activities of the OHP target about 32,000 young persons a year. It has, however, been estimated that various kind of services offered by the OHP to young people in a number of core and temporary activities serve as many as 400,000 young people annually.

The OHP budget is part of the state budget and it is determined by the parliament as a component of the general state budget.

In the period 2004–2006, the OHP budget fluctuated between PLN 90 million (€24.8 million) and PLN 100 million (€27.6 million) and the regional offices of the work teams received grants ranging from PLN 5 million (€1.3 million) to PLN 9 million (€2.4 million) on an annual basis.

It has been estimated that the OHP were underfinanced by at least 15%–20%, but European structural funds received during 2004–2005 have significantly empowered their activities.

OHP activities are geared towards the group of young people facing the most difficult challenges. To date, no longitudinal research exists to verify the medium or long-term effects of OHP activities on the careers of participants.

Although it is believed that the OHP might lower the amount of criminal activities among young people under the age of 25 years, this hypothesis has not been verified.


So far, the OHP’s experiences are not easily transferable to other countries or socioeconomic contexts.


The rejuvenation of the OHP in the early 21st century is a puzzling phenomenon, as the activities of this type of youth organisation seemed destined to come to an end.

It remains to be seen what kind of long-term effects the OHP will have on young people and society once the institutional environment for labour market policy in Poland has matured and stabilised.


Minister of Labour and Social Policy; Website: www.mpips.gov.pl

Voluntary Work Teams; Website: www.ohp.pl


Regulation of the Ministry of Work and Social Policy of 11 July 2000 on the tasks and functioning of the OHP, in www.bankier.pl

Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Informacja o funkcjonowaniu Ochotniczych Hufcow Pracy [Information on the functioning of the Voluntary Work Teams], Department of the Labour Market, May 2007.

Biuletyny OHP, Various issues of the OHP monthly bulletin from 2005, 2006 and 2007, available at: www.ohp.pl/?id=17

Polski Portal Edukacyjny, available at: www.edu.info.pl

Aleksander Surdej

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