Economic Context

Austria is a country of SMEs: Almost half of the working population is employed in companies with less than 50 people. The vast majority of 87.1% of all companies have only 1 to 9 employees. More than a third of the population holds an apprenticeship as highest formal qualification. Unemployment rate is comparatively low (4.9% in April 2018) but has been increasing over the last few years. Youth unemployment is one of the lowest in Europe (9.9% in April 2018). Three quarters of all people work in the service sector.

Working Population

Austria’s workforce shows a number of 4,260,500 employees in 2017 with a total population of nearly 8.8 million. Both numbers have been increasing steadily in the last years. 68.2% of all women and 76.2% of all men in the age group 15 to 64 years held a job in 2017. The numbers of females holding a job have increased stronger than those of the men.

The latest numbers show a decreasing unemployment rate: in April 2018 4.9% are registered as unemployed in Austria, as opposed to5.4% in EU-28 ( Youth unemployment (15 to 24 years) was 9.8% in 2017 (EU-28: 16.8%, cf. Nevertheless, the employment rate of 15- to 24-year-olds was far above the EU-28 average (51.0% compared to 33.8%) in 2016 (cf. This is mainly due to the diversity of vocational education and training (VET) programmes on the upper secondary level, which meet the requirements of the economy.

Sectors of the economy – how well do VET programmes mirror the sectors of economic activity?

Today the Austrian economy is dominated by services: Around 71% of the gross value added comes from the so-called “tertiary” sector, 28% comes from the “secondary” sector (production), and 1.3% from agriculture and forestry (the “primary” sector) (cf. 71% of the labour force is engaged in the service sector (

The VET programmes offered in Austria have reacted to this structural change. Curricula of existing programmes have been updated and adjusted, new programmes focussing on “service” fields have been introduced.

Labour market structure and development – skills levels of the population

In 2014 31% of the population (15+) held an apprenticeship qualification as their highest completed programme (cf. Fig. 1). 14.5% had acquired an upper secondary school-leaving certificate (in a general education or VET programme), 10.3% held a university-level degree. A tendency can be observed that more and more people acquire higher-level qualifications.


Fig. 1: Austrian population by highest educational attainment in 2014.

Österreich Country Context

Source: Statistic Austria

There are clear connections between unemployment rates and educational attainment. In 2017 only 3.4% of the workforce with a tertiary qualification were unemployed. The unemployment rate of those with compulsory education only was 24.8% (cf.

The relatively low unemployment rate of Austrian youth (9.8%) compared to the EU average (16.8% in 2017) is mainly due to the vocational programmes at the upper secondary level. They are well accepted by young people and the labour market. In addition, many publicly funded youth labour market policy programmes exist (such as the training obligation up to the age of 18).

Business environment, the relative importance of SMEs

In 2016 there were more than 330,000 enterprises in Austria  These companies employed more nearly 2.9 million people. The distribution of employees by company size shows the huge importance of SMEs in the Austrian economy. The vast majority (87%) of companies employ up to nine people. Overall, about one quarter of the workforce is employed in micro enterprises. Only 0.4% of the Austrian enterprises are large companies (250 employees and more), but 32.4% of all employees work in these companies.

Fig. 2: Companies by size categories in 2016

Österreich Economic Context


Source: Statistic Austria

Regional differences

Even if Austria is a relatively small country there are differences between the nine provinces: in terms of urban/rural characteristics, educational attainment, sectoral characteristics of the economy and the (un)employment rate. Especially Vienna, which is the capital city and the largest province with 1.86 million people at the same time, is different in many circumstances.

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