Published on June 27th, 2014 | by Francoise Van Keuren
Building Economic Ties between the United States and Brazil through Education
At the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, I will board a train travelling 12 hours from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais to Linhares, Espirito Santo, Brazil. There I will begin the on-site phase of the Global Leadership Fellowship with Denver-based NGO, US-Brazil Connect (USBC). The NGO focuses on assisting Brazilian vocational and high school students with becoming more comfortable with English language and American culture, as well as connect them with foreign education institutions and community colleges. Fellows are expected to lead a group of Brazilian students through a series of leadership and group collaboration exercises, meanwhile strengthening their confidence with the English language. The Conexão Mundo program, as it is called, fits into grander Brazilian economic goals, which depend on the development of a robust skilled labor force.
In 2011, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced the launch of an ambitious education plan that aspires to send 101,000 Brazilian students overseas for a high quality, fully funded education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The plan, set with a 2015 deadline, comes at a time of significant labor shortages that are hindering the Brazilian economy. A survey by Manpower reported that Brazil’s labor shortage ranks second in the world with 68 percent of the nation’s employers reporting skilled labor shortages. With a rapidly developing economy, industrial development is outpacing labor and infrastructural capacity, and Brazilian companies in oil, construction, mining, and aircraft development are particularly affected.
In an effort to develop a skilled labor force for its growing economy, the Brazilian government has undergone a series of initiatives partnering with businesses, organizations and education institutions both domestically and abroad. For instance, the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI), a network of Brazilian industry and government actors, has been particularly active in vocational training and qualification through the Social Service of Industry (SESI) and the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service (SENAI). SESI and SENAI focus on developing capable, qualified technicians that can operate and maintain industrial production efficiently.
Despite the enticing perks of the aggressive exchange education plan, few students seem to be capable of studying abroad due to significant language barriers. English is considered a competitive necessity for both university enrollment and future employment; however only five percent of the country speaks the language (and the level of proficiency is dubious). Programs such as Ciência sem Fronteiras, English without Borders, and to an extent SESI and SENAI, form partnerships with foreign institutions and training organizations for Brazilian students to receive a quality education and hope to ensure that students have the English level to take advantage of these opportunities. Acknowledging the need to bridge language and cultural barriers for both of the countries’ benefit, many profit and non-profit organizations have jumped in with English-based training programs. One such non-profit organization is USBC.
USBC aims to “strengthen education and build economic opportunities by connecting communities, engaging leaders, and creating transformative learning experiences linking the United States and Brazil”. Understanding that Brazilian students have little opportunity to practice the English language with native speakers, USBC operates by bringing native speakers and the American cultural immersion experience to Brazil. Through two fellowship programs, The Community College Fellowship and The Global Leaders Fellowship, American students and young professionals are brought to Brazil to engage Brazilian students in conversation, leadership exercises, and cross-national networking. In exchange, US participants receive first-hand experience in producing and maintaining on-site English language programs and are immersed in Brazilian culture. Programs such as those run by USBC come at a time when an economic and diplomatic partnership between the US and Brazil are particularly important.
USBC partners directly with the US and Brazil based education institutions and with Brazilian industry organizations such as CNI, SENAI, and SESI. CNI is an association of Brazilian industry and, feeling the pinch of the skilled labor shortage, finds education to be a top priority and funds various training programs accordingly. SENAI and SESI offer a series of courses in vocational and technical training, English language, and provide social, health, and educational support to families enrolled in their system. It is key for these programs to partner with US based institutions because these relationships fit into the greater economic interests of Brazilian industry. By partnering with US institutions, they are gaining access to quality education for their labor force. And well-educated labor force means higher production capacity, greater innovation, and, in the end, competitive edge.
A strong, well-educated labor force means stronger industry and smart, competitive business. Which in turn means economic growth and might for Brazil. As for the US, why not have a competent, wealthy trade partner in the same hemisphere?
Photo Credit: US-Brazil Connect