IT’s Brazil: the technology skills gap

Posted by By at 17 August, at 05 : 30 AM Print

IT’s Brazil: the technology skills gap

The Brazilian IT market has gone from strength to strength in the last few years. The sector is forecast to grow more than 10% in 2011, with revenues exceeding $182bn by year-end, up from $165.5bn generated in 2010, according to IT trade body Brasscom.

However, does Brazil have enough people to cater for current and future demand? In the second part of the IT’s Brazil series, IT Decisions provides a summary on the shortage of skilled IT professionals in Brazil.


How serious is the IT skills gap in Brazil?

According to the Brazilian Agency for Promotion and Export of Software (Softex), the Brazilian IT sector currently employs 600,000 people. However, the organization’s numbers suggest that there was a shortage of about 75,000 skilled professionals in 2010 and that deficit is expected to reach to 92,000 in 2011 and 200,000 by 2013.

IT universities churned out 2250 masters and 321 PhDs in computer science between 2004 and 2007. Nowadays, there are some 2,000 IT-related courses in Brazilian universities with around 300,000 students studying these subjects, so one would be forgiven for thinking that there is more than enough supply to meet the demand. However, it appears that there is a disconnect between the caliber of professionals supplied by these courses and the skills that companies require.

What is causing this?

Issues raised several IT decision makers in Brazil and gathered by IT Decisions over the last few months suggest that technical capability alone is not necessarily the main problem, since Brazilians tend be self-starters and fast-learners.

What happens is that, more often than not, candidates do not have the combination of technical nous and attitude that companies are looking for – or rather, the behavior needed to analyze business requirements, translate that into technical projects and deliver them. That is an issue voiced by supplier and user firms, even though the latter group appears to be affected to a greater extent.

Other challenges mentioned, which are often quoted by CIOs employing skills from India or China, is an increasing tendency to “augment” CVs with skills that candidates do not really have.

Brazilian IT pros also do not appear to be very mobile, which is a problem for companies looking to recruit those located outside the major urban centers of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The lack of proficiency in English and other languages is increasingly mentioned as a major obstacle when it comes to hiring IT staff.

Finally, and most importantly, is the salary factor: the recurring wage war between companies has significantly increased turnover within IT departments. This is particularly true in relation to IT workers within user firms, who get lured by supplier firms on the promise of higher wages and better training opportunities.

How is the government reacting to this?

Earlier this year, the Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade (MDIC) indicated that a census would be carried out to get the real picture of the skills shortage in Brazil, following a suggestion by the Federal Council of Engineering, Architecture and Agronomy (Confea).

Even though progress on that census is yet to be seen, the government got further confirmation that there are not enough qualified professionals in the technology area when iPad manufacturer Foxconn revealed that it has been struggling to find skilled personnel following its decision to invest billions in a manufacturing facility in Brazil.

Earlier this year, at the World Economic Forum on Latin America, speakers voiced concerns that Brazil is simply unable to keep up with demand in terms of technical expertise.

“We lack both quantity and quality [of technical skills] in Brazil, quantity because of the scale of growth in Brazil at present, and quality because we really need to invest in two areas of education. One is the formal education system in schools – the government needs to invest a lot to improve the schools, but they also need to improve technical education – nurses, engineers and so on,” João César Lima, managing partner of the Rio de Janeiro office of PricewaterhouseCoopers told IT Decisions at the WEF.

So what is the government doing to help, exactly?

Despite being perceived as a less important issue in more developed countries that also suffer of scarcity of qualified IT professionals, the matter in Brazil seems to have finally reached the top of the government’s agenda. Skills development in sci-tech is one of the pillars of Brasil Maior, a three-year protectionist plan announced last week.

Brasil Maior includes three flagship programs for vocational and technical education to stimulate engineering are part of the strategy: the National Program for Access to Technical Schools (Pronatec), the National Pro-Engineering Plan, and the Science without Borders program.

The two most relevant programs for IT are: Pronatec, which will offer 3.5 million scholarships to equip people with expertise for the market while upskilling individuals who are already in the workforce and Science without Borders, which is offering 100,000 scholarships for exchange students, from high school children up to post-doctoral researchers. The federal government will meet the cost of 75% of the scholarships with private sector support for the remainder.

Additionally, the National Service for Industrial Training (Senai, in the Portuguese acronym) will start a program of expansion and construction of research and training centers to meet the needs of the domestic industry, with support of the federal government.

Earlier this year, the IT policy secretary at the Ministry of Science and Technology Virgilio Almeida told IT Decisions that the government was looking into offering web-based training at the Technological Vocational Centers across the country around areas such as programming and games development in what would be a “mass-training initiative to cover an enormous amount of people.”

Almeida also said that the government was also looking into extend the creation of multidisciplinary courses at universities that could allow students to get trained in different areas such as art, social science, music and others, but with technology as a base.

How is the private sector reacting to the lack of skilled professionals?

Just as in other countries, private sector organizations in Brazil are operating with increasingly smaller IT departments and are having to resort to technology vendors or setting up captive operations in cost-effective, resource-rich countries such as Argentina in order to supplement their in-house resource.

Many IT executives in Brazil mention talent attraction and retention as one of the main challenges they face today, as good professionals can be easily tempted with higher salaries, more frequent and diversified challenges and even trips overseas, particularly if they decide to move over to an IT supplier. Many IT chiefs in user firms also admit that, despite the concerns around attracting and retaining people, initiatives to address the problem are still incipient.

Buy-side CIOs also admit that they may lose talent to vendor organizations: about 75% of a pool of Brazil’s top IT decision-makers polled by IT Decisions last month said that future career opportunities will probably or certainly lie on the supplier side.

With increasing pressure to do more with less and salaries on the rise – statistics from recruitment firm Robert Half suggest that IT salaries in Brazil have seen a 20% increase in 2011, with business analysts earning R$ 6,000 ($3,772) on average per month – end-user organizations are struggling to justify such salaries.

In the meantime, vendors are taking steps to increase their attractiveness to young professionals: Brazilian software firm Totvs, for example, has recently announced an initiative to train 500 recent graduates across the country to work in analyst roles in the areas of development and implementation.


Image by Ben McLeod licensed under Creative Commons. 

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