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International migration

Brazil in the war for talent

In brief

Brazil's educational system cannot keep up. Farmworker signing a contract in Pará, the second largeste state in Brazil

Brazil's educational system cannot keep up. Farmworker signing a contract in Pará, the second largeste state in Brazil

Over the past four years, the number of foreign workers in Brazil has doubled. In 2010, 39 % more foreign engineers were hired than in the previous year. The lack of skilled workers has become a global problem.

“Not all Brazilian companies face this challenge,” explains Oliver Parche of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), “but in industries such as oil and gas, there is indeed a lack of specialists. We know that many highly skilled Argentinians are migrating to Brazil.” If the trend continues, the DIHK director for North and South America says, “we can expect recruitment to begin even in Germany at quite competitive wages soon”.

Large state-owned conglomerates, such as Petrobras, are looking for good staff in South America, and so are corporations like Volkswagen and BASF. Man power, a human-resource agency, estimates that 67 % of all companies in Brazil are having trouble in recruitment. The flip side, however, seems to be poverty among unskilled workers and farmhands. Computer-controlled harvesters and fully automated production lines in the fledgling agrarian industry make production faster and cheaper, so people are being laid off.

When Brazil’s economy began to boom four years ago, entry-level salaries for engineers tripled. Today, graduates of technical colleges no longer worry about having to make a living by selling ice cream. Indeed, the lack of skilled staff may soon slow down the economy. CNI, the national industrial association, estimates that firms may not be able to fill some 150,000 engineering jobs next year. The resilient economy needs engineers to build tankers and oil-rigs as well as in the automotive sector, the wood pulp industry and construction.

Brazil’s educational system is inadequate. The government urgently needs to invest more not only in vocational training and higher learning, but even in high schools. The recent ranking by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) put Brazil 53rd of 65 countries. In contrast, neighbouring Argentina is known to produce excellent engineers.

The lack of engineers from Boa Vista to Porto Alegre has “long been a problem”, says Carla Pereira, director of the GIZ office in São Paulo. What she finds more baffling, however, is the lack of skilled workers without degrees – such as welders, machinists, bricklayers or joiners. “Car garages used to make do with staff that had little schooling,” Pereira says. But as manufacturers continued to add technology to their vehicles, work became more demanding, so now “skills need to be up-dated constantly”.

Currency too strong

Brazil’s currency, the real, reached a record high early this year. As the real became overvalued, imports grew by more than 40 % in 2010. Furthermore, Brazil’s exporters recorded considerable losses, especially in Mexico. There is growing concern that deindustrialisation may be afoot. Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) says the government’s first reaction was to increase the tax on foreign capital investments to six per cent.

The boom caught Brazil’s educational sector, which is by its very nature slow to change, unprepared. Large firms are making the best of the bad situation. For example, airplane manufacturer Embraer now offers its own master’s programme, which lasts 18 months. Mining firm Vale similarly founded a training centre of its own in 2003. Rio-based steel manufacturer CSA sends staff to its German parent company Thyssen-Krupp for a year of training.

There is need for action outside the corporate giants, however. Germany is helping development partners in several ways. Brazil’s national industry trading association, SENAI, and GIZ have agreed on cooperation on further training, for example. Two other noteworthy initiatives are a 10-week further training session for young environmental and energy managers from Brazil, which takes place in Mainz; and a German-Brazilian business meeting on renewables at Hannover Messe in April. Germany is interested in exporting its dual approach to vocational training, combining on-the-job training and classrooms. (Please note essay on promoting innovations on page 64.)

Peter Hauff