The role of Voluntary Work Teams in getting young people into employment
Poland's Voluntary Work Teams, although often judged by critics as a legacy of the communist era, have managed to maintain an important position among institutions aimed at getting young people onto a professional career path and into employment. This position has been further strengthened by provisions in the National Action Plan for the Enhancement of Employment and other legislative acts promoting employment in Poland.
History of Voluntary Work Teams
The Voluntary Work Teams (Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy, OHP) were established by a regulation of the Council of Ministers on 13 June 1958, with the objective of giving young people an opportunity to acquire professional work experience. In this respect, the OHP continue in the tradition of the Youth Labour Squadrons established in 1936 to enable young people to gain professional qualifications. According to a resolution of the Council of Ministers, the Voluntary Work Teams depend on the support of the national government administration in carrying out their tasks. In communist times, their activities took different forms: the teams organised summer holiday work and conducted ongoing projects in schools. At the time, the teams were engaged in a variety of activities, including some flagship projects of socialism, such as the construction of a motor car plant in Tychy in the mid 1970s, the building of Huta Katowice steelworks or the post-war reconstruction of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The period of democratic transformation challenged the existence and usefulness of the OHP. However, OHP managed to confirm their significance in the new political environment by becoming a partner in different ventures for such institutions as the Government Fund for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (Panstwowy Fundusz Rehabilitacji Osób Niepelnosprawnych, PFRON) and the Polish Scouting Union (Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego, ZHP).
Statutory framework and mission
The activity of the Voluntary Work Teams is regulated by the Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions Act of 20 April 2004 (PL0512102T). Chapter 3 of the Act mentions the OHP among other labour market institutions. The OHP mission includes actions in favour of youth, in particular young people who are threatened by social exclusion and for the unemployed aged younger than 25 years. Chapter 5 of the Act is fully devoted to the status and operations of the OHP, and states that it is a government budget entity, supervised by the Minister of Labour. The supervision consists of endorsing annual reports and action plans.
Among the various tasks of the OHP are those that are directly connected with the promotion of youth employment. The OHP’s competence in this regard is defined by article 12, chapter 5 of the Act and consists of organising employment for persons of 15 years of age and older who did not finish elementary or middle schools, unemployed persons younger than 25 years and students.
Other important elements of OHP activity are:
- offering vocational guidance to young people and organising mobile centres of vocational information;
- international cooperation and youth exchange;
- running employment agencies without the need to gain employment registry entry;
- refunding employers’ pay and social insurance costs for young workers employed on the job for vocational training.
The OHP obtains the necessary financial support to refund employers’ costs from the Ministry of Labour; the funds are not part of the income from which companies would have to pay tax.
Organisational structure and activities
The Voluntary Work Teams operate at national level. A General Director, appointed by the Minister of Labour, directs the entire structure, and supervises the work of provincial leaders and directors of vocational and educational centres.
To satisfy the objectives defined by law, the OHP implement several programmes regarding employment agencies, vocational guidance and short-term employment of students, such as youth work agencies, employment clubs, mobile centres of vocational information, youth career centres and vocational training centres.
The basic organisational unit of the OHP are work teams (as set down by the Minister of Economy and Labour ordinance of 30 December 2004 regulating specific tasks and organisation of the OHP), which recruit young people. It is the oldest form of OHP activity, and enables its beneficiaries to complete their education either through various training courses or by acquiring professions attending middle schools for adults or basic vocational schools. The teams cooperate with youth employment agencies and labour offices in order to help OHP beneficiaries find jobs.
Target audience, vocational training and remuneration
The OHP projects mainly target young persons aged between 16 and 18 years. In this case, their employment is part of vocational training. According to the ordinance of 28 May 1996 of the Council of Ministers regulating the vocational training of juvenile persons and their remuneration, learning a trade cannot last less than 24 months and not longer than 36 months. As for practical training on a specific position, it can take from three to six months. For juvenile beneficiaries of the Voluntary Work Teams, this period can be prolonged until middle school graduation but cannot last more than 22 months.
Remuneration is calculated on the basis of the official average pay in Poland. In the first year of education, a youth worker should earn not less than 4% of the average pay, and in the second and third years of education, not less than 5% and 6% of the average pay, respectively. A young person who obtains vocational training in a specific trade is entitled to a remuneration of no less than 4% of the average pay.
Results and current challenges
The Voluntary Work Teams succeeded in establishing the Youth Labour Offices, which function as job agencies and offer vocational guidance and short-term employment to students. Every year, theYouth Labour Offices assist more than 200,000 young people, of whom some 150,000 get the chance to start working. Detailed data from 2004 show that the OHP Youth Labour Offices registered 241,698 persons (students and unemployed youth) of whom 217,617 were provided with job offers, 193,557 directed to work and 162,399 actually employed. Moreover, the most popular jobs taken up by the young people were positions as salesmen, masons, sales representatives, security officers and hostesses.
A new challenge facing the Voluntary Work Teams is the growing interest of students in summer holiday work. With the help of the vocational training centres, the OHP organised short-term employment, training courses and active vacations for almost 160,000 high school and university students in 2004. Organising summer work is obviously not the main area of activity of the vocational training centres: their primary focus is on the organisation of training courses according to the needs submitted by OHP labour offices and labour clubs.
The OHP also provide training and counselling. Every year, some 220,000 people apply for individual counselling and active job-seeking workshops in employment clubs (there are some 95,000 individual counselling beneficiaries and 125,000 workshop participants).
In local job markets, the OHP play an important role in paying out salaries of young workers and refunding their social security fees, taking over this duty from the Poviat Labour Offices. While 1,100 people were dealing with the refunds in labour offices, only 125 OHP employees handle the job now.
It should to be noted, however, that the Labour Fund expenditure for refunding payment of juvenile workers has been systematically decreasing as a consequence of the growing number of students in basic vocational schools. In 2001, the refunding of payment totalled PLN 395.9 million (and constituted 49% of the total costs of counteracting unemployment), while in 2004 it was PLN 141.1 million (and 11%, respectively).
OHP projects in 2006
OHP projects under the annual action plan 2006 of the labour market include:
- Programme of preventing social maladjustment and crime among children and youngsters;
- Chance 13-18- Education, Work and Upbringing, a project targeting youth aged between 13 and 18 years, threatened by marginalisation and social exclusion (there are 84 such projects carried out across the country, involving 5,063 persons under 18 years of age);
- A programme which focuses on the development of new forms of students’ governments.
- Your Knowledge, Your Success, the 2006 edition of the Education - Knowledge - Work project, under Action 1.5, Scheme b of the sector operational programme of human resources (HR) development;
- Plan Your Career, a vocational involvement of youth in rural areas’
- Individual Action Plan, a portfolio for young persons who plan their own path of professional career;
- Equal Start, a promotion of entrepreneurial attitudes among youngsters;
- Online Guidance, a cycle of e-learning courses in thematic blocks for vocational guides and young people;
- Vocational Guidance for the Youth in Mobile Centres of Vocational Information and Youth Career Centres;
- OHP Youth Labour Offices, professional work agencies for young people;
- Chance 18-24 - Way to Self-sufficiency, a project a project targeting persons aged between 18 and 24 years for HR.
Opinions are divided about the Voluntary Work Teams and their role in getting young people into employment. Some critics feel that there is no longer a role for the OHP in a changed political environment. Others feel that the OHP play a key role in enhancing youth employment in Poland today and provide essential services, such as refunding employers’ costs when training or employing a young person. Currently, the OHP is seeking to obtain EU subsidies which would guarantee and strengthen their role even further. One of the crucial questions is whether the diversification of OHP initiatives would make the structure ineffective, and whether this could be avoided by creating partnerships to successfully carry out their projects. On the social partner side, the OHP is supported by the Polish Crafts Association (Zwiazek Rzemiosla Polskiego, ZRP), whose representatives were actively consulted about the technical details of refunding employers’ costs. One of the major achievements of the OHP is their effectiveness in tackling youth unemployment and social exclusion. The work of OHP alleviates, at least to some extent, the effects of social exclusion at local level.