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Poland and the ICT Revolution – Are We There Yet?

November 6, 2014

The Information Technology (IT) revolution is transforming labor markets globally in an unprecedented way, and the world is at the beginning of what some have called the “Sharing Economy.” New ways of working are linking free-lancers with corporations across the globe through sophisticated IT platforms that provide not only new opportunities for high-skilled programmers, but the possibility to perform traditional cognitive jobs - such as data cleaning and copyediting – from very remote locations.

While these new opportunities represent opportunities, they also pose challenges for policymakers in terms of adapting the design of risk-management tools, such as retirement savings, health insurance, and contracts, to this new and growing reality in order to benefit workers.

A recent workshop, organized by the Warsaw-based Institute for Structural Research (IBS) and the World Bank, tried to make sense of this transformation and what it means for countries like Poland.

As pointed out during this workshop by Tomasz Klekowski, Chairman of Lewiatan Association of Digital Technologies Employers, this revolution is mostly good news for Poland. Poland is revealing its comparative advantage in performing high-skilled tasks for the European and global IT sectors, with Polish IT experts often featured on online labor exchange platforms, such as elance.com (represented among the workshop’s panelists), and the country benefitting from massive corporate foreign direct investment by IT companies.   

While this process is driven by the private sector, the fundamental enablers of this revolution depend on the provision of several public goods – among them, a friendly business environment, a high degree of macroeconomic and political stability, and, above all, a stock of high-skilled labor at competitive rates. 

World Bank Group

" What, then, does this all mean for the World Bank’s shared prosperity agenda in Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe? "

World Bank Group

What, then, does this all mean for the World Bank’s shared prosperity agenda in Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe?

First, in this period of an ever-increasing supply of educated youth entering a labor market defined by high unemployment, the availability of adequate jobs continues to be an obstacle for workers throughout the country.

As pointed out by European Commission Economist Paolo Pasimeni during the workshop, long-term unemployment has been proven to destroy skills developed during formal education and previous jobs.  In an economy where skills matter more and where technology changes faster than in other industries, people outside of the workforce will be penalized even more than they might have been in the recent past. Furthermore, how long people remain unemployed, as well as what people do while unemployed, increasingly matters.  

Secondly, if Poland wants to maintain an edge in the future, when its cost-advantages may dwindle, it needs to invest today in the skills of the very young. According to Maciej Jakubowski, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Warsaw, this does not occur by simply putting a child in a classroom with computers. Rather, it requires a whole methodology to be put in place that is based on extensive human interaction.

Training teachers capable of carrying out this necessary transformation is a challenge that Poland is preparing for, according to Polish Deputy Minister of Education Ewa Dudek, though it is far from resolved at this stage.

As part of this workshop, Bill Mitchell, director of the UK-based BCS Academy of Computing, provided the opportunity to take a peek at how Britain is planning to carry out computer science education from early grades. Teaching programming skills to children may only ultimately still require a pen and a piece of paper, as education is fundamentally about enabling a person to visualize and solve complex problems faced by programmers. Hence, the “usual suspects” that have traditionally underlined education - math, literacy, and problem solving, coupled with creativity – will remain in fashion even in the era of ubiquitous programming.

Fortunately, much of this learning can also be introduced by less traditional means, such as hackathons, as programmer Michał Mach demonstrated during a session that offered a peek at the lifestyle of IT developers.

All of these insights help provide a roadmap for Poland and, taken collectively, can help the country address the challenges of tomorrow by focusing on solutions today.