Poland's competitive advantage was based on a large number of young people entering the labour market soon after the transformation to a market economy but this has been fading as the demographic peak grows older. The largest age cohort in Poland is currently aged 34 (born in 1983) there are nearly 700,000 of them. The smallest group is currently aged 14 (born in 2003), there are only 350,000 of them. This means that each year on average, some 17,500 fewer young people enter the labour force. For the next five to ten years, employers will need to make do with a shrinking number of school-leavers and university graduates.
Employers are increasingly reaching out abroad for recruits, either from Ukraine, or (for firms with strong employer brands), from the UK. Poland has the opportunity to welcome back over a million experienced, courageous workers who could make a difference to the economy. However, those returning may be discouraged if the prevailing management style is still autocratic.
Technological advances are automating many routine tasks formerly performed by semi-skilled workers (those with a high-school diploma but not a degree). Technology forces many mid-skilled workers to take low-wage jobs, resulting in a polarisation of the job market into high- and low-skilled. The number of overqualified applicants and employees in low-skilled jobs will increase. Across much of Europe, nearly half of school leavers go on to tertiary education. Yet it's far from the case that nearly half of all jobs are graduate-level. The remaining jobs may not be challenging or engaging to employees with middle- or higher education, potentially leading to decreased employee engagement, retention and productivity. In addition, productivity has increased substantially over the past few decades while workers’ wages have fallen in relative terms, creating an additional squeeze on wages which could soon be evident in Poland.
Technology has made it possible for employees to work from any location and has made their physical presence in the office less important. The rapid growth of technology has eroded physical barriers to working and has enabled people in previously isolated countries to participate in global business, thus allowing work to be performed far from its original source.
A threat as well as an opportunity for Poland. New foreign investments moving into Poland are now driven by the quality of the people rather than cost-cutting. But globalisation has made the world a competitive place. Capital will seek cost-effective solutions to business problems, which affect local markets. Foreign investors moving to Poland can afford to pay the highest salaries to the best talent, which has a knock-on effect for local employers who have to strive harder to keep their staff.
New models of work
Telecommuting will increase in Poland and more jobs will be conducted virtually with remote workers. The talent pool available to Polish employers will grow as people in many different countries abroad become available to work. However, HR managers will encounter greater challenges in managing remote workers, evaluating productivity and fostering feelings of connection to the organisation. The internet has facilitated a new way of working – crowdsourcing. New websites such as Gigwalk, Mechanical Turk and TopCoder have created global online marketplaces where workers and those with project work can connect and transact business. Employees can work for one company and, when work is slow, work for another company. This practice avoids lay-offs. Crowdsourcing is outsourcing from the crowd; it allows an organisation to leverage the collective talent of the crowd to get work done, often in more efficient and cost-effective ways than the traditional employment model. By using 'reputation scores' similar to sellers on eBay, these platforms will allow companies in Poland to quickly evaluate talent outside their own workforce.
Reshaping the curriculum
Educational authorities in Poland (and the rest of the world) are struggling to adapt school and university curriculums to meet the needs of the modern economy. Though the percentage of young people with college degrees is growing in Poland (as it is across Europe) companies still report challenges in finding candidates with the right combination of technical and soft skills. Many high-school and college graduates will not be prepared for the workplace. Filling positions that require STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills could be challenging. What should the government's policy response to these needs be?
A workshop on how HR managers can prepare for some of these changes will be held on Wednesday 8 November at the BPCC.
Reference: SHRM Foundation. (2014). The changing nature of work and the worker.