Poland in Labor Bind So Bad It Can't Staff Job-Placement Offices

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(Bloomberg) -- Poland is so short of workers that even its employment offices are struggling to find staff.

A glut of vacancies has meant that queues for the permits required to hire foreign workers -- a procedure that should last a maximum of two months -- now extend for up to a year in parts of the country, according to consultancy Deloitte Poland. Construction companies alone are in need of “thousands, maybe tens of thousands of foreign workers,” said Piotr Kledzik, chairman of the executive board at the Polish unit of Porr AG, an Austrian builder.

“It’s impossible for Poland to complete its investments projects without them,” Kledzik said. “And lines of Ukrainian applicants, instead of shrinking, extend forever.”

For now, the arrival of an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians in recent years has provided enough relief to keep Poland’s economic growth churning at the fastest in six years while taking pressure off wages. But strains are beginning to show. Years of exodus by Polish workers to the richer west, compounded by the government’s flat-footed response as the labor market tightens, sent domestic vacancies surging nearly 40 percent last year.

Almost two-thirds of public-sector employers are seeking new personnel, hamstringing the government’s management of a labor shortage that risks becoming a major drag on the European Union’s biggest eastern economy. Poland’s employment offices have 380 vacancies for positions handling foreign job applications, according to Deputy Labor Minister Stanislaw Szwed. That averages out to more than one per each outpost across the country.

“There are no people interested in jobs at public offices,” Szwed said at a conference. A computer system that’s expected to “fundamentally solve the issue” won’t be ready until 2019, he said.

Read More: Thirty Years Upended as Eastern Europe Faces Skills Shortage

Meanwhile, half of Polish companies are struggling to fill vacancies, according to a survey conducted in late January by Warsaw-based recruiting and human services provider Work Service SA. There are also calls for Poland to look to Asia for workers even as it struggles with incomers from neighboring countries.

Even the most prestigious multinational employers are on edge. Jolanta Jaworska, government and regulatory affairs director at the Polish unit of International Business Machines Corp., said she’s seen no such shortage in her 17 years with the U.S. technology giant.

“It’s not on a whim that we want to hire foreigners,” she said. “We just need people to complete projects that bring benefits to Poland, and if we won’t have people to do that, the projects will be taken over by other countries.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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