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After spending weeks searching for welders for his offshore oil platform factory in southern Brazil, Ivo Dworschak finally turned to the woman who had been making him coffee for the past six months.
“I told her that if she knew how to knit she must have flexible wrists so she could be a welder,” he says. “We had been looking for people in the area but the men mostly worked in the fields and the women as maids. However, we didn’t want to bring in people from other states as it would be time-consuming, and turnover could be high because we thought they wouldn’t like the cold and windy weather down here.”
For Mr Dworschak – the vice-president of Ecovix, which makes equipment for BG Group andPetrobras – the unorthodox recruitment strategy seems to be working. After a short in-house training programme in collaboration with the local government, Angela Maria Amaro Corrêa is now working on the production line along with many other women in their 40s and 50s.
However, some companies have not found it so easy to retrain staff or fill vacancies.
“Training cannot happen fast enough,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note recently after site visits to oil and gas companies in Rio de Janeiro. “Every company we met cited a tight skilled labour market as a key risk to execution of strategy.”
Engineers are most in demand. Those who graduated 20 years ago have gone into other professions such as banking as Brazil’s construction market remained inactive for more than a decade. Tool pushers, rig managers and geophysicists are now particularly hard to find.
As a result, costs in the industry are rising as companies fight over a limited number of professionals to secure their position in what is expected to be one of the world’s top five oil producing countries of the next decade.
“We’ve seen a lot of companies bringing executives from abroad on what is known in the industry as the ‘door-to-door’ scheme,” says Ricardo Guedes, the head of recruiter Michael Page’s office in Rio de Janeiro.
“They pick up a professional from wherever they live, be it in Aberdeen or the Gulf of Mexico, take them to the airport and then to the platform in Brazil to work there for 28 days. Then they pay for them to go all the way home again,” Mr Guedes says.
It is often cheaper for companies to do this than hire Brazilian engineers, whose salaries are on average 15 per cent higher than for equivalent foreign workers, he says.
Luis Costa, the managing director of the Brazilian office of Denmark’s Maersk Oil, says experienced workers are also rare. “Professionals in the 10- to 15-year experience range are especially difficult to find, or when they are found they are quite expensive.”
Although skill shortages are common throughout the oil and gas industry, Brazil’s human resource problems have been made worse by the country’s poor basic schooling and high cost of university engineering courses. In a recent OECD report, Brazil was found to have just 1.95 engineers per 10,000 inhabitants, fewer than any other of the 35 countries studied.
In a last-ditch attempt to reverse this trend, Brazil’s government has introduced a series of initiatives over the past year such as the Science Without Borders programme, which will award 75,000 scholarships over four years for Brazilians to study abroad.
BG Group has said it will contribute $100m to the programme, while others in the industry, such as Chevron, have embarked on smaller projects to both ensure a more reliable supply of workers in the future and win favour with the government.
The US oil company, which ranks as Brazil’s third-biggest producer by volume, has spent R$2m ($1.1m) since last year on granting scholarships and improving three laboratories at Rio de Janeiro’s PUC university.
However, progress is likely to be slow, analysts say, especially as Brazil is not heavily dependent on oil revenues for its public finances. The government has already delayed the next round of oil concession auctions, which has been bogged down by a row over royalties, causing a brief reprieve in the hiring frenzy.
Both companies are now facing criminal charges and fines of up to $22bn for the leaks, which totalled no more than 3,000 barrels.
“We have a huge challenge in the industry, but with greater investment, companies are gradually increasing capacity,” says Nelson Silva, head of BG’s operations in Brazil.
The UK-based oil and gas group is planning to create a “welder city” jointly with the Angra dos Reis municipal government in Rio, where it intends to persuade other women like Ms Amaro Corrêa to join the production lines and bring along their husbands to retrain as well.
“Brazil already has a tradition of industry,” Mr Silva says. “It’s just a case of shifting it to the oil and gas sector.”
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