Specialised, high-tech production key to attract highly qualified professionals

 In In Focus, News, Restructuring, SME

Portugal must channel EU structural funds to modernise its companies in specialised, high-tech production if it wants to attract highly qualified jobs and professionals to do them.

This was the essential message from the Portuguese Minister of Planning and Territorial Cohesion, Nelson de Souza on Wednesday.
With a long experience in the distribution of structured funds to support, develop and modernise the Portuguese economy, Mr. de Souza has managed various structured funds such as COMPETE, PRIME and QREN as well as managing IAPMEI, the government entity that helps Portuguese SMEs. Indeed, he has served as Secretary of State for SMEs.
Addressing a group of company managers and leaders at a breakfast debate in Lisbon on Wednesday organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal (AmCham) Nelson de Souza explained the government’s strategy that lay behind the Portugal RRP (Recovery and Resilience Plan) and what the government hopes to achieve through its application.
In 2018, before the pandemic, the government had approved Strategy 2030 which is aimed at growth and a roadmap for the entire decade.
It sought to construct programmes with funding support financed from European funds.
Strategy 2030 is organised around four key agendas geared towards economic development, society and territory: 1) People first: improved demographic balance, greater integration and less inequality. 2) Digitalisation, innovation and qualification as drivers for development 3) Climate transition and resources sustainability 4) A country that is competitive overseas and cohesive internally.
However, the minister said that Portugal’s demographic problems and low birth rate would not be solved in the short term. It required affordable housing for young people and contract stability for young working couples.
There also needed to be a planned programme geared toward immigration to attract young dynamic people to Portugal. “We have not had an integrated strategy for this in recent times,” he said adding that it had to have a specialisation profile; a policy to attract the required resources while integrating such immigrants into the fabric of Portuguese society.
On climatic transition, Nelson de Souza said that Portugal had already been leading the way for many years in the adoption of renewable energy sources and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.
In order to have sustainable economic development in Portugal and across its regions it is important that development is territorially balanced and not just focused in Lisbon, Porto and along the coast, with development geared toward overseas markets. In the North, for example, the focus should be on central European markets, while along the border the focus would be Spain.
“We should also not forget our entire Atlantic-facing coastline, most specifically the fact that it faces the Americas and provide another opportunity that should not be forgotten but leveraged in this new post-Brexit Europe,” said the minister.
Turning to the level of qualifications in the Portuguese population, he said that in 2000 only 11% of the population had university education, but by 2021 40% now had higher education which he called “extraordinary” and that the paying of tuition fees and grants through EU structural funding in the case of students from underprivileged economic backgrounds, had been decisive.
“Education is vital for our development”, he said adding that in 2000 Portugal had one of the highest indicators in Europe for leaving school early. Around 40% of school pupils left school before their secondary school final exams.
Thanks to structural funds, around 250,000 students per year were now completing professional education courses, allowing Portugal to converge with the European average of 6.8%.
However, despite the encouraging numbers in professional and academic courses at universities and technical colleges, the problem of attracting overseas talent and retaining local talent in Portugal had not been solved.
“This generation, which is the most highly qualified to date, cannot find the job opportunities in Portugal that they are now qualified to do. So now we have to improve the gap between the supply of courses on offer and the supply of job opportunities to meet them. Sadly, because of the incapacity of Portugal’s companies and industries to keep pace with specialised production and this is something on which we now need to focus with the help of these funds,” concluded the Portuguese minister of Planning and Territorial Cohesion, Nelson de Souza.

The AmCham event was introduced by the President of the chamber, António Martins da Costa and moderated by Miguel Eiras Antunues (Deloitte), a leading expert in Smart Cities and Urban Ecosystems.