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Voluntary Labour Corps

The Voluntary Labour Corps (Polish Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy, OHP) is a state-run organisational unit working to prevent the social exclusion of young people. In line with the current Act on Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions, the Voluntary Labour Corps is a labour market institution supervised by the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy that performs state tasks directed towards teenagers over 15 years of age, and the unemployed under 25 years of age, that include employment services, counteract social marginalization and social exclusion, as well as tasks related to education and upbringing.

Its activities take their inspiration from the legacy of the Youth Labour Brigades established by decree of the President of the Republic of Poland of 22 September 1936. During its long history, this organisation worked relentlessly for young generations of Poles who needed state support to start an independent life and meet the challenges of the modern labour market.

The potential:

To reflect the changing social situation, the OHP continues to transform the format of its activities and organisational structure, enhancing its methods of youth training and education and labour market services. As a result, the OHP demonstrates a potential which makes it capable of undertaking new challenges in active social policy and its aspects relevant to young people. The OHP structures consists 721 organisational units and branches operating throughout Poland.

Depending on the type of activities delivered, these include:

→ 217 shelter and educational units, where young people can supplement their general and vocational education;
→ a network of 504 bodies implementing labour market initiatives, where young people may benefit from vocational counselling and guidance, job matching services, and vocational training and information.

All of these facilities are open institutions which implement the agenda for the local community in cooperation with local self-government authorities, employers, associations, and foundations operating in a given area.

The employees working for OHP are highly qualified; more than 50% of the staff members are young people with several years of work experience, who have received training (also as part of projects co-financed by the EU) at specialist courses in various forms of assistance provided to youth.

The beneficiaries of the activities delivered by the Voluntary Labour Corps include:

• young people (aged 15 to 17 years) from troubled, dysfunctional, unemployed, and poverty-stricken families who fail to continue compulsory schooling and are not in education, struggle to complete school, and need to acquire vocational qualifications;
•  individuals aged 18-25, including jobseekers or those who wish to be retrained or are unemployed; school graduates, and students.

To address the needs of young people over 15 years of age who are not in learning and have no lower-secondary school education, the Voluntary Labour Corps has teamed up with local self-governments and employers to deliver educational initiatives in non-standard legal formats that enable young people to complete practical, on-the-job training. Participants in OHP courses who benefit from employment and vocational training courses sign individual work contracts on terms and conditions applicable to young workers. Consequently, they benefit from all the social benefits they are eligible for, while the term of their pre-employment vocational training is classified as part of their periods in employment.

In addition, during their stay at OHP facilities, all participants with limited material resources receive free accommodation, board, and 24 hour pastoral care.

Benefiting from its in-house training workshops and long-term cooperation with local employers – businesses and craftsmen – the OHP’s range of pre-employment vocational education is extremely diverse and enables young people to select the occupation of their choice. It also embraces the demand for a specific type of workforce on the local labour market. This approach effectively helps young people to become independent, which is often a major challenge in families with problems, which offer no such support. The OHP units provide young people with vocational training in approx. 60 disciplines.

Every year, over 85% of participants successfully complete education or are promoted to the next grade in spite of previous school failure and several repeated classes, while more than 90% of the young people who complete their vocational training take the qualification exam.

Professional activation and counteracting unemployment:

Being a labour market institution, the Voluntary Labour Corps implements tasks directly related to professional activation, counteracting unemployment and the social marginalisation of youth. Its initiatives include job matching, vocational counselling and information services, workshops promoting active job search, organisation of training seminars, and labour market programmes.

In addition to the above audience in need of special support, beneficiaries of the OHP activities include youth seeking employment, students and school graduates. Every year, labour market services are provided to approx. 700,000 young people, including:

  • over 170,000 young people who benefit from youth employment agency services;
  • over 240,000 young people who receive assistance with active job search (job clubs);
  • over 270,000 young people who benefit from the vocational counselling services offered by Mobile Vocational Information Centres and Youth Career Centres;

“Green Line”:

Another task commissioned to the Voluntary Labour Corps by the Minister of Labour is the operation of the “Green Line” Employment Services Information and Counselling Centre. This nationwide hotline answers telephone enquiries about the assistance provided by employment services, and maintains an internet portal available at: www.zielonalinia.gov.pl. The site features a separate section for employment services (Intranet) to support communication between individual labour offices. The beneficiaries of this efficient database include both “Green Line” employees and clients who seek information about labour market services, training opportunities, benefits, and assistance offered by labour offices to the registered unemployed and people in employment, employers and institutions.

Reimbursement of young workers’ wages:

For several years, the Voluntary Labour Corps has been conducting a task commissioned by the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy to support employers who take young workers on board in order to provide them with vocational training. The key vehicle of this initiative is reimbursement of the wages of young workers. The OHP annually reimburses up to approx. 40,000 employers the cost of wages and social insurance contributions for more than 140,000 juvenile workers worth approx. PLN 300 million.

The OHP mainly performs its statutory tasks to ensure that young people effectively enter the labour market by implementing large-scale projects co-financed by EU resources, and especially the European Social Fund. Just like other OHP initiatives, these are mainly addressed to young people at risk of social marginalisation for whom ESF projects provide an opportunity to benefit from innovative forms of assistance and obtain vocational qualifications vital to their employability.

Projects co-financed by the European Union:

Similar projects have been implemented by the Voluntary Labour Corps since the Poland’s accession to the European Union in May 2004. As part of the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2004-2006, the OHP delivered seven major systemic projects worth more than PLN 100 million altogether addressed to over 22,000 young people. OHP credits in the consecutive programming period 2007-2013 include 16 projects with a similar range, implemented as part of the Human Capital Operational Programme for over 75,000 beneficiaries, valued at nearly PLN 220 million. The programme range of these initiatives was supplemented with a research project and projects addressed to seriously troubled youth supervised by probation officers.

The experience gained during the implementation of these initiatives and their positive public reception have boosted the credibility of the OHP as a professional systemic beneficiary, highly valued by local communities and positively perceived by authors of autonomous evaluation reports. The OHP has consequently become one of the leading beneficiaries of the Human Capital Operational Programme currently being implemented. To date, the OHP has delivered the largest ESF projects in terms of their nationwide reach, budget size and number of beneficiaries. Benefiting from a state-wide organisational structure, the OHP have implemented HC OP projects simultaneously in several hundred organisational units located in all provinces, which has meant that the educational services offered by the OHP are readily available to all potential audiences. In each case, project beneficiaries were carefully recruited to streamline the ESF assistance to those individuals who are actually in need of aid because of dysfunctional community or family background, who are struggling with various pathologies, and who have no real prospects to kick start their professional career on their own. Participation in OHP-run projects has given these individuals prospects for acquiring vocational qualifications. Following completion of the projects, almost one-fourth of adult beneficiaries have successfully found employment.

The Voluntary Labour Corps also pursues regional projects initiated by its territorial units. Their key beneficiaries include young people aged from 15 to 25 at risk of social exclusion – both participants in OHP initiatives and local youth.

“The OHP as the implementer of labour market services” is the biggest systemic project implemented to date with funds from the European Social Fund. This five-year long project – implemented in cooperation with and at the request of individual local self-government bodies which provided its organisers with pro bono premises – has contributed to the establishment of 322 units providing job matching and vocational counselling services, and delivering vocation training courses. In five years, 45,000 young people have benefited from comprehensive assistance, while more than 200,000 a year received individual services provided by these units.

The Electronic Youth Activation Centre:

The project “The OHP as the implementer of labour market services” has contributed to establishment of an information and counselling centre called the Electronic Youth Activation Centre, which addresses its services to young people, their guardians, employers, and everyone else who takes an interest in the operation of Voluntary Labour Corps units. The EYAC covers the hotline, an internet portal for youth (www.ecam.pl), and an intranet knowledge database.

“Rare occupations as a way forward into the future”:

In the final phase of implementation of the Human Capital Operational Programme, the Voluntary Labour Corps has undertaken an additional unique project which demonstrates major social relevance – “Rare occupations as a way forward into the future.” The goal of the project is to build a village of rare occupations, equipped with appropriate workshops which will become the venue for qualification courses in occupations that are becoming extinct. Revival of the traditional arts and crafts of the Podlasie region is an additional merit of the project. It will also become an opportunity to train the OHP’s practical vocational training instructors who will deliver courses striving to keep those occupations alive in the future.

“Youth Guarantee”:

In the new EU financial perspective 2007-2013, the Voluntary Labour Corps became one of the key implementers of the European Youth Employment Initiative, which strives to assist young people NEET, i.e. aged 15 to 24, who are not in education, employment, or training, on the labour market. The Initiative will provide funding for the implementation of the Council Recommendation of December 2012 on the establishment of the “Youth Guarantee” to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 years receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

In the near future, the Voluntary Labour Corps will become the leading institution providing key forms of assistance to Polish youth. Implementing the “Youth Guarantee” programme, the OHP is currently delivering two projects: “An Idea for Yourself” and “Equal on the Job Market” co-financed by both the European Social Fund and YEI (Youth Employment Initiative). The assistance is mainly addressed to vulnerable (as a result of family or community-related factors) youth, and especially individuals born into broken families affected by unemployment and poverty, or those who neglect compulsory schooling or are not in education or training. Both projects have been joined by 7,400 young people aged 15 to 25 who have sessions with employment counsellors, psychologists and lawyers, benefit from foreign language, computer, driving, entrepreneurship courses and social skills training. Younger beneficiaries are provided with remedial education in subjects taught at school, while older ones take part in vocational training or vocational qualification courses. In addition, participants of the “Equal on the Labour Market” project have guaranteed traineeships and receive a scholarship during their term.

Implementing the “Youth Guarantees” programme, the OHP is accountable for delivering two projects and provision of job matching, vocational counselling and training services addressed to NEETs. 74,000 young people altogether have benefited from these initiatives in 2014. The range of available activities includes provision of free-of-charge vocational training which creates prospects for obtaining specific qualifications and certificates. Provision of this support is preceded by a diagnosis of the local labour market and cooperation with employers interested in taking on new employees, which translates into a high rate of employability. Vocational training courses in Poland are delivered by Youth Career Centres and Vocational Training Centres. As a rule, before the training begins, organisers receive the employers’ promise that they will hire young participants of the course. Therefore, training issues are fine-tuned to match the needs of the local labour market, as indicated by consultations with potential employers.

In the final phase of implementation of the Human Capital Operational Programme, the Voluntary Labour Corps has undertaken an additional unique project which demonstrates major social relevance – “Rare occupations as a way forward into the future.” The goal of the project is to build a village of rare occupations, equipped with appropriate workshops which will become the venue for qualification courses in occupations that are becoming extinct. Revival of the traditional arts and crafts of the Podlasie region is an additional merit of the project. It will also become an opportunity to train the OHP’s practical vocational training instructors who will deliver courses striving to keep those occupations alive in the future.

The Voluntary Labour Corps is a modern institution, responding to social needs, benefiting from highly qualified staff to provide high quality services to young people.

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