Poland continues to advance in global rankings assessing investment attractiveness; in the 2016 World Bank Doing Business survey, Poland is now in 25th place, up from 75th place just four years ago.
In the Polish inward investment agency PAIiIZ’s reports, Investment Climate and Investor Satisfaction, the potential, qualification and availability of Polish workforce is highly rated, as is increasingly its loyalty. Confirmation that decisions to invest in Poland were sound is borne out in the results of a report published by the German chamber of commerce in Poland in 2015, according to which 96% of German companies would once again invest in the country.
At the same time, however, there are reports suggesting a shortage of qualified manual workers, as well as specialists. Among the skills sought by employers are programmers, engineers, but also mechanics, lathe operators or welders. As Ewa Tomczak, senior consultant and managing partner at Diversa Talentor, said: “in Poland we have a paradoxical situation – despite relative high unemployment [in September 2015 it stood At 9.7%], employers are indicating difficulties in finding workers”. This has an effect on companies’ competitiveness.
Zenon Pokojski, vice-president of the management board of Grupa Azoty Zaklady Azotowe Pulawy, said: “we have taken issue with the problem of shortage of skilled workers here at the nitrogen plant in Pulawy. We are Poland's largest – and the EU’s second largest – producer of nitrogen-based fertilisers, as well as being the world's third largest producer of melamine. A company with such a strong position on the market is forced to take care of its human resources,” said Dr Pokojski, adding that the company is also preparing to face the changes in the labour market as well as in industry.
Zaklady Azotowe is in a privileged position because every fifth person employed in Pulawy an employee of the plant. It also has loyal employees, with average length of employment being 18 years. The average age of those working in the plant is around 42. Azoty actively engages in building its employer brand as a socially responsible company.
Five years ago, Zaklady Azotowe began cooperating with the Maria Sklodowska-Curie Technical Schools in Pulawy. As a result of this cooperation, Azoty has had the opportunity to influence the direction of teaching in the school, thereby gaining suitably qualified young workers. High-school students also have the opportunity to undergo training at the plant, and the top 10 graduates from each academic year get a job at the company.
Azoty Group has also established cooperation with a local institution of higher education – the Pulawy campus of Lublin’s UMSC university. Here, a faculty of Technical Chemistry was established under the auspices of Azoty. The best graduates from this department are also offered the opportunity of employment at Azoty.
The town’s most important education institutions, the main employer in the region and the local labour office cooperate closely, and the effects are tangible. Their joint initiatives are beneficial to all.
Robert Fila from the Tarnobrzeg office of ARP, the industrial development agency, says that the needs of investors are particularly listened to. The Wisłosan Special Economic Zone took the initiative to bring together interested parties – local employers, representatives of education and the labour office. “It is important that they talk around the same table, rather than just send official letters to one another,” said Mr Fila. “Cooperation between science and business has improved and has become less bureaucratised as both sides realise that they must work together if they are to face up to the changing demands of the market.”
During a panel discussion, participants positively assessed recent developments concerning dual vocational training, providing employers with the opportunity to influence the content of the curriculum through practical activities carried out at the employer’s premises. Panellists stressed that industry currently suffers the consequences of the way vocational education was run down in the 1990s. “We had a really good system, we have to adapt it to current realities. Does Poland need 41% of its population with higher education?” asked the Dr Pokojski. “It is necessary to work on restoring the positive image of vocational education,” said Teresa Modzelewska, chief specialist, from the Office of the Marshal of Lublin Province’s Department of Culture, Education and Sport.
Pulawy Science and Technology Park was an excellent place to showcase ARP’s Platform for Technology Transfer (PTT) (http://www.ptt.arp.pl/). "This technology transfer platform combines owners of innovative solutions, those who wish to purchase them and experts willing to share their knowledge. All this has a single purpose: to commercialise technologies for the benefit of Polish industry," said Jakub Moskal, director of the in-house projects at ARP.
PTT is based on the concept of open technologies. “Companies are becoming aware that innovation does not necessarily have to be sourced from within, from a company’s own resources and own research results, but also from commercially available external resources that exist in the company's neighbourhood. These are worth reach out for,” said Mr Moskal.
“And here in Puławy, home of Poland’s largest chemicals plant, it’s worth saying that our database currently contains 141 technologies from the field of chemistry. This should be good news for our domestic fertiliser champion.
By 2020, the Ministry of Education plans to allocate €120m of EU funds from the current financial perspective on vocational education, while at the regional level, almost €700m has been reserved for this purpose. There are funds to be used; this represents an opportunity for the Polish economy in the context of plans to re-industrialise the country, participants heard.
After a networking lunch, there was a chance to visit the Azoty Puławy plant, as well as to see the Science and Technology Park.