Published on August 17, 2021

Polish miners do have prospects for employment after coal – new research

by Alina Pogoda, Polish Green Network

The latest report of the Polish Institute for Structural Research predicts such a level of labour shortages in the next years in Silesia, Poland’s main mining region, that miners can rest assured there are options for them after coal.

The Institute for Structural Research (IBS) recently published a report analysing the socio-economic context of decarbonisation in Poland in the 1990-2019 period, including scenarios of employment changes in the mining industry for the 2019-2050 interval. The report shows that miners today have a much better chance of finding a job after the closure of the coal industry than they did 20 years ago, and it constitutes a convincing response to the common fear of transformation among Polish miners – a fear resulted not in the least from a bad previous experience with mine closures in Silesia two decades ago, which were rushed, unprepared and hence took place in a violent manner which could be described as ‘shock therapy’. 

From the early 1990s up to the mid-2000s, those who left coal jobs had limited prospects of finding new work in the region. The reason was the widespread job cuts happening throughout this period, meaning that many young but poorly educated people ended up seeking employment in a shrinking labour market. Since 2010, however, there has been an increase in the number of jobs available in industries such as industrial processing and construction, and a smaller inflow of people into the labour market is clearly visible. Therefore, the chances of employment for miners are much greater today then ever before in the country’s post-socialist history.

The IBS report starts from the estimation that, according to the decarbonisation plan set out in the ‘Polish Energy Policy 2040’, by 2030, 14,000 hard-coal mining workers must quit their jobs. But from 2026 onwards, the demand for labour in Silesia is set to exceed the supply and every year, the report estimates, there will be a shortage of approximately 20,000 workers. This is an optimistic forecast, in particular for young miners who are looking to remain professionally active after coal mines close and will be interested in retraining programs that meet their expectations.

IBS finish the report with three recommendations which, when implemented together, would facilitate the reduction of employment in the hard-coal mining industry in a manner that is satisfactory to the workers. The first recommendation is to suspend the hiring of new employees in order not to increase further the number of people who will need support in changing their profession in the future. Secondly, it is necessary to relocate miners who want to work until retirement to the mines producing coking coal, which will run longer. On the other hand, younger miners should be re-qualified as soon as possible, to work in alternative industries such as construction and automotive. The third recommendation is to provide training to improve the qualifications of miners in the sector, in order to increase the number of engineering and technical staff ready to take up roles in the process of mine closures.

The results of the IBS research give hope for the decommissioning of the coal sector as they indicate the perceived risk of huge unemployment among former miners upon closure of coal facilities is not real nowadays. In this context, the important thing would be to have a solid overview of the job opportunities available in the region and prepare workers with necessary trainings to take up new roles.