Artist's impression of the Rio Olympic Park at night. Credit AECOM.

Country focus: Brazil

We take a look at the opportunities for young engineers in Brazil - what skills employers are after and what kinds engineering projects are planned or currently underway.

Country snapshot

Brazil is one of four major emerging market countries alongside Russia, India and China, the so-called BRIC countries, and has a population of almost 200 million. It is the seventh largest economy in the world and has the second largest industrial sector in the Americas.

Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) sits at US$2.56 trillion with the service sector making up more than two thirds of this (67.3 per cent) and the industrial sector accounting for a little over a quarter (26.9 per cent). The country enjoyed growth during the global recession but the economy slowed over 2011 and 2012 and according to figures from the World Bank, GDP growth of 7.5 per cent decelerated to 2.7 per cent in 2011 and 0.9 per cent in 2012.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Economic Survey of Brazil 2013 found that the economy is once again expanding but it needs to address a number of longer-term challenges to ensure continued growth. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Brazil could find itself in the bottom rung of the BRICS for economic growth next year.

What’s going on there?

The short answer to this is: the two biggest sporting events on the planet: the FIFA World Cup next year followed by the Olympic Games in 2016. Ensuring the country has the infrastructure to support these two events means a large amount of construction work is underway including several new ‘mega’ international airports, ports, road, rail and monorail projects as well as the creation of hotel, retail, commercial centres and, of course, stadiums.

Brazil has been in the second phase of the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme, PAC2 since 2011 (PAC1 began in 2007) and comprises thousands of public and private infrastructure projects. Among the high profile projects is the Olympic Park, designed by UK-based AECOM (which also designed the London 2012 Olympic Park). It focuses on approximately 300 acres of land in the district of Barra de Tijuca, south-west of Rio and its plans detail the three phases from hosting the games through to transition and legacy, the latter demonstrating the park’s economic, environmental and social sustainability around permanent structures.

Airport expansion projects include the construction of the São Gonçalo do Amarante-Natal International Airport in Rio Grande do Norte which will be the largest airport terminal in Latin America and reportedly the seventh biggest in the world.

The country is also massively adding to its power grid with hydroelectric plants in Santo Antônio on the River Madeira and Belo Monte on the Xingu River among the Amazonia projects aiming to deliver sustainable energy in Brazil. This work is causing some controversy, however, as conservationists are concerned about the effect they will have on the surrounding natural area.

Alongside this frenzied level of activity, Brazil has many challenges to face and much work to do. Some projects, for instance, have failed to attract sufficient bidders and progress is being hampered. The government has postponed the tender for its São Paulo-Rio bullet train for one year although it still expects it to be operational by 2020.

The OECD urges Brazil to “move forward” on much needed structural reforms and improve infrastructure and the business environment, streamline its burdensome tax system, as well as open up trade and investment opportunities and provide a level regulatory playing field. Indeed, today’s infrastructure projects aren’t just about two sporting events but are required to support Brazil’s continued economic growth in many years to come.

What skills are in demand?

Brazil suffers from a lack of skilled and qualified labour and newspaper articles often point to this as being a real threat to its future growth. Skilled engineers and technicians are among the areas where the shortage is especially marked and this is impacting a number of sectors including oil and gas and mining as well as construction. It simply doesn’t train enough engineers to meet its needs and employers also report difficulties in finding reliable people. This means there are opportunities for those from overseas although understandably this isn’t a popular local option.

Some point to the historic lack of investment in education as one of the main factors for its skills shortages. In 2011, the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff launched a youth training scheme to tackle the skills shortage and announced funding for a technical training scheme. Such initiatives may provide a solution in the years to come but Brazil’s need for skilled labour is more pressing. Some organisations are trying to address the problem by launching their own corporate universities.

Which areas are seeing most activity?

Clearly there is a great deal of development taking place in and around the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro as well as the country’s largest city São Paulo, the capital, Brasilia in the central-west region, and Salvador on the north-east coast. The main gateway airports, hubs and ports will also continue to see more projects.

Such is the overall level of infrastructure development though that there will pockets of activity sprouting up across the country. Last year, for instance, Rousseff has announced plans to build 800 regional airports and to create around 11,000km of rail.

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