Brazil: Perfect Labor Storm strikes another emerging country

For almost any nation other than China or India, achieving more than 5 percent growth a year is hard. Doing it without skilled labor is even harder.

But that is the challenge facing Brazil, the B in the BRIC economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China — today’s version of economic tigers.

Brazil is projecting a period of sustained growth, with the gross domestic product increasing 5 percent a year, from now to 2010, and about 3 and 4 percent annually for the decade after. But many companies and economists, including some inside the government, say the dearth of highly skilled labor, particularly engineers and tradesmen, will jeopardize those goals, and Brazil’s economic and political rise.

The engineering shortage is spreading across industries. The lack of civil and construction engineers threatens infrastructure projects; areas like banking, aircraft manufacture, petrochemicals and metals are all competing for the same top graduates. In the booming oil and gas industries, companies are turning to foreign labor because there are not enough qualified Brazilians to go around.

A study by the National Confederation of Industry last September found that more than half the 1,715 industrial firms polled could not find the skilled workers they needed. Of those, 69 percent said the lack of a qualified work force resulted in inefficiency; 36 percent said it led to lower quality goods; and 25 percent said it made acquiring or assimilating new technologies more difficult.

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Ira S Wolfe