Brazilian HR Leaders Share Challenges, Vision for the Profession


By Roy Maurer February 7, 2014

In a knowledge exchange about the challenges and issues confronting the HR profession and best practices in association management, leaders of ABRH-Nacional, Brazil’s largest HR association, visited the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 27-28, 2014.

A national confederation of 22 HR state-level associations in Brazil, ABRH-Nacional is a volunteer-driven organization. Each year it organizes Brazil’s largest HR conference, attracting 3,000-4,000 attendees and 21,000 visitors.

SHRM recently approved the organization as a delivery partner of the certification preparation programs for Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR), Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP) and Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP), as well as the HR Metrics seminar.

SHRM Online sat down with ABRH’s executives to discuss Brazil’s human resource challenges, the organization’s collaboration with SHRM and the country’s excitement over showcasing its energetic and creative workforce at this summer’s World Cup. Present were Leyla Nascimento, ABRH president and the founder and executive director of Brazil’s Instituto Capacitare, a workforce development organization; Elaine Saad, ABRH vice president and country director for YSC Brazil, an assessment, leadership and coaching firm; and Andrea Huggard-Caine, GPHR, HRMP, director of certification and metrics for ABRH and principal of HuggardCaine Consulting.   

SHRM Online: What are the most pressing challenges for Brazilian HR professionals right now?

Saad: Retention is a major challenge. The economy in Brazil is not excellent right now, but it is still strong. People have job opportunities, so a company has to offer more than good compensation or a good work environment to retain talent. HR is working hard to think about what else could be offered to young, talented people to engage them. HR is having discussions around value, purpose and meaning, and career expectations.

Brazil’s labor laws are always a pressing issue. The cost of the employment relationship, the cost of hiring and firing, taxes—these are always on the table.

Huggard-Caine: Yes, the cost of doing business is very expensive in Brazil. There are a lot of regulatory mandates from the government passed down without thinking about the impact that the laws have on the employer community. For example, there is the issue of de facto restrictions on how much companies can invest in training before it is considered an operational expense, which then has tax implications.

Saad: Executive compensation in Brazil is also pretty high, leading multinationals to question our pay structures. HR is called to explain this to foreign companies’ overseas headquarters. Additionally, in recent years, HR has gained a place at the leadership table, but we still face a challenge in occupying this seat. How can we use our HR skills to benefit the company’s strategy? Some HR professionals are not ready to have a meaningful strategic discussion at that level. So we are working toward trying to fill this knowledge gap.

SHRM Online: How do you feel about the development of national HR standards and educational curriculum to professionalize human resource management? 

Huggard-Caine: We are definitely pushing for HR to be recognized as a profession. We are working on that issue as an association. In Brazil, HR is not considered a profession; it’s a subprofession of business administration.

Nascimento: Our objective is to start a dialogue about human resources with the government. As the largest HR association in Brazil, we know the state of the profession better than anyone. Another solution is to create an HR-degree program. We don’t have a university-degree program in HR.

Huggard-Caine: Other groups are also attempting to create HR competency models; so that means there is a lot of push to do this, but we’re not sure how this will turn out. Our concern is that these certifications are not just rubber stamps. Our position is that a certification should rigorously test a body of knowledge—that’s one of our missions.

Saad: The HR community in Brazil goes from A to Z. You have small and midsize local companies with an HR department of one, and you have multinationals with large staffs and global policies. The range is enormous. As an association, we have to try and adapt this discussion to all these different types of professionals.

Huggard-Caine: With a legitimate HR certification, we will be able to attract the people we want to this profession. HR needs to be repackaged in Brazil into something exciting and forward-thinking, a serious profession crucial to business.

SHRM Online: How is the collaboration with SHRM helping in this area?

Huggard-Caine: We’re working with SHRM on launching HRCI [HR Certification Institute] certification programs in Brazil. We see that to bring the profession to the standards that we want to see, we need to create products that will deliver tools and knowledge that will elevate the profession. Our partnership with SHRM helps us do this. We are also interested in capturing SHRM’s best practices in political advocacy, benchmarking metrics and association management.

SHRM Online: Is there also a skills gap in the workforce?

Saad: Yes. It’s a complicated issue. Many Brazilians are available to work, but they are not qualified for the jobs that are needed. We are importing engineers from Portugal and Spain, doctors from Cuba. From an HR perspective the question is, how can I better the skills of my companies’ workers, knowing that if I do that, I can lose them to the competition? It’s difficult.

Huggard-Caine: To be able to close this gap will take some years. It’s a huge investment to change educational standards. In the meantime, when you want to bring in an engineer from abroad, you have to prove that you don’t have someone locally that can do that job, and on paper candidates look the same, but in practice their skills are not the same. In the past, inpatriates were general managers, but now we’re finding that more and more are technical staff. People are graduating from Brazilian universities without the expertise we, as a country, need. The premier institutions are comparable to the rest of the world, but some of the educational levels around the country are not up to standard. People graduate and can’t find jobs. Another disconnect is what companies require for the job and what they’re willing to pay for the job. Writing a job description has to be realistic to the workforce we have.

SHRM Online: What challenges or opportunities are you expecting around this summer’s World Cup or the 2016 Summer Olympics?

Huggard-Caine: There are several challenges. For example, how to work with the large volunteer workforce that it takes to set up these events. How will people prepare to train this workforce, with all the language differences, for example? The World Cup and Olympics will put the spotlight on Brazil, and there is a lot of anxiety around some of the human capital issues we talked about that will also come under the spotlight, warts and all. We want people to see what’s best about our country.

Nascimento: I think it is very important to understand the Brazilian people. We are creative, flexible and innovative. It is important to understand this to understand how work is done in Brazil.

Huggard-Caine: We are very fast at reacting to changing circumstances. That is a very strong national characteristic.

Saad: Brazilians are also very friendly and enjoy working closely with people.

SHRM Online: Tell me a little about your 2014 annual conference.

Saad: It is scheduled for August 18 to 21 in Sao Paulo. This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the conference.

Huggard-Caine: The theme this year is focused on the urgency to elevate the HR profession. Let’s innovate; let’s dare to be more—don’t be stuck with what you have.

Saad: We want to stimulate Brazil’s HR practitioners, get them thinking about how they can aim higher and influence more inside the company.

Huggard-Caine: We want to stress to HR: Be proactive, go out and do it.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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