FINANCIAL TIMES: Conservative hiring erects barriers to Brazil jobs

In Morde & Assopra, a hit soap

opera in Brazil, Keiko is a Brazilian

woman of Japanese descent

who returns to Brazil in search

of work. It might be a fictional plot

but it is very deeply rooted in reality.

The local economy is so hot that

Brazilian companies face an unprecedented

demand for skilled workers

that cannot be met locally and are

wooing a pool of Japanese-Brazilian

talent, along with other foreign workers.

And there is interest aplenty from

foreigners in working in Latin America.

Executive pay in Brazil is today

among the highest in the world. Expatriates

from the US report increasing

their salaries between by 30 and 50

per cent on moving to Brazil.

Moreover, because poor educational

standards are largely to blame for the

skills shortages, they will not go away

quickly. In a recent survey by HSM

Management of 500 executives, 78 per

cent said they did not have sufficient

leaders in their companies. This

chimes with experience on the

ground, says Rafael Souto, director of

Produtive, the recruitment firm.

Given this backdrop, some executive

recruiters are optimistic that salary

growth will continue in the shortterm

and predict salary rises of

between 15 and 35 per cent this year.

Most, however, see a slowdown in

2012 after years of breakneck growth.

“From 2012, the salaries will increase

but more slowly. No one can keep up

with this red hot pace of increases

indefinitely,” says Mr Souto.

Oil and gas, mining, civil construction,

agriculture and financial services

IT are all reporting high demand,

with skills in engineering, IT, management,

finance and accounting seen

as particularly valuable. “We see

skills gaps everywhere and in the IT

industry they are extreme,” sighs

Antônio Salvador, human resources

manager at Hewlett-Packard in São


The pattern of shortages is repeated

in other markets in the region with

Chile a particular highlight. Spencer

Stuart, the executive search firm, sees

especially strong demand in Chile’s

mining sector and pay increases of 6

per cent this year, with expatriates

arriving from Argentina and Spain.

Colombia is also reporting a large

flow of nationals moving back to the

country as it embarks on a large

infrastructure upgrade now that civil

unrest is largely a thing of the past.

That is creating opportunities in the

growing mining, energy and oil and

gas sectors.

It might sound like the perfect hunting

ground for job-seeking professionals

from the European doldrums. But

conservativism in foreign hiring in

countries such as Brazil means many

are disappointed.

Although recruiters and HR personnel

are reporting a surge of interest

from foreign job-seekers, Brazilian

companies are dipping into that pool

timidly at best. Jorge Maluf, partner

at Korn/Ferry in São Paulo, says he

receives five unsolicited approaches

by foreigners every week. Most are

disappointed, he says.

Private companies have not got to

grips with this new talent pool – they

sound interested but tend to shun foreign

CVs in practice. “Every time we

present a foreign CV, the tendency is

for them to see it as a left field alternative,”

says Mr Maluf.

The strong preference is for a local

Brazilian, then an expatriate Brazilian,

then a foreigner with Portuguese

or at least Spanish language skills –

and in last place foreigners with no

connection to the country, he notes.

The fast-growing retail sector is particularly

hard to crack as it requires

local knowledge, while IT, in which

English is widely used, offers more


Foreign job hunters at an advanced

stage of their career are more likely to

encounter success. In the past 12

months, HP has moved 10 professionals

to Brazil, all at a senior level,

including a chief financial officer and

legal director, says Mr Salvador. It is

difficult to justify hiring further down

the scale because of high costs associated

with transfers, he says.

Recruitment of outsiders is also

slowed down by the long and painful

process of securing a work visa. The

Brazilian government takes a fiercely

protectionist stance and the country

has some of the most convoluted

labour and tax regulations in the


Donald Jackson, controller at HP in

São Paulo, arrived from the US in

October and describes the visa process

as “really arduous, requiring lots

of visits and form filling that took

four months”. He counts himself

lucky, saying many of the expatriates

he has met took even longer. Six

months is typical.

But things are improving, albeit

slowly. In 2006, the Brazilian Ministry

of Labour and Employment issued

just 25,440 visas. Last year it was

56,000 with citizens from the US, the

Philippines, the UK, India and Germany

at the top of the list. Companies

are lobbying ever harder for the government

to relax laws on hiring from

overseas as they find their competitive

edge eroded.

For the lucky few that make it to

Brazil, the cultural transition is simple.

Brazilians are rightly renowned

for their openness and foreigners generally

fit in well to the multi-ethnic

mosaic. Mr Jackson says his Colombian

wife and four children are

ecstatic about their move. “They have

completely adapted and it helps in

Brazil that there is an amazing affinity

for kids.”

São Paulo’s economic success is rapidly

making the city more international,

underpinning a rapidly improving

cultural infrastructure. Even up

to the 1990s, companies would pay a

hardship bonus for employees to come

to Brazil; now, offices, services, restaurants,

schools and infrastructure

are comparable to other major world


As host of the 2014 football World

Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, all

layers of government are spending on

sport, accommodation and transport


The number of projects taking place

in Brazil is dizzying and the work

exciting and challenging and for the

most part, foreigners slide easily into

the workplace. But Mr Salvador cautions

that “the incorrigible optimism

of Brazilians” – while enjoyable – can

be a double-edged sword, as workers

tend to paint a rosy picture of projects

up to the deadline when they suddenly

admit to problems, he notes.

A final surprise for many new arrivals

is the cost of living, which has

rocketed in Brazil. “Even though you

are paid a lot more, you need to find

ways to economise. We have cut back

on eating out and by getting a more

compact car,” says Mr Jackson.

Mr Salvador agrees that costs are

much higher than in the US and says

he lives in an apartment that is one

third the size of his house near Dallas,

even though his salary has doubled

since he left the US in 2007.

Despite the frustrations and high

costs, most expatriates report being

happy with their choice – indeed, the

problem might be persuading those on

temporary contracts to go back home.

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