Employment prospects examined

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February 2002 saw the publication of two studies examining employment prospects and demand in the Portuguese labour market. One report on the likely employment situation in 2001 predicts increasing unemployment, though accompanied by a continuing need for new immigrant labour. The second study examines the career paths of graduates, finding that the majority take up jobs in public administration, with the private sector slow to take on highly qualified workers.

At the beginning of 2002, the unemployment rate in Portugal stands at 4.1%. Although the country has one of the lowest levels of unemployment among the EU Member States, it is starting to experience an upward trend. Two recent reports shed some light on the employment prospects in the coming period and on the labour market situation of graduates.

Employment prospects in 2002

A report from the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional, IEFP), released in February 2002, examines Portugal's employment prospects for 2002.

The report outlines a number of different future employment scenarios and, taking into account the forecast of lower GDP and productivity growth rates, states - arguably rather pessimistically - that the rate of unemployment in Portugal may climb to over 7% in 2002, the same figure as registered at the end of the 1980s. However, the report states that the rate of employment will continue to rise, by 1.25% in 2002 in the most optimistic scenarios. Furthermore, in 2002, the trend of recent years, whereby a significant number of new jobs are taken by workers from abroad, particularly from outside the EU (PT0006199F), will continue. In the more favourable macroeconomic scenarios, the forecast is for the existence of 44,000 to 56,000 vacancies to be filled by immigrant workers. In a less favourable scenario, there will be a need for 27,000 immigrant workers, mostly in civil construction and the services and hotels sectors - this represents a sharp fall in relation to last year's forecast.

The report's figures on the numbers of migrant workers required in 2002 do not match the estimates of businesses in sectors which make particular use of such labour. Companies in these industries put the total number of jobs to be filled by immigrants at around 91,000 - with 32,700 in construction, 20,200 in hotels and restaurants and 13,400 in retail.

Survey of graduates' career paths

February 2002 also saw the publication of the findings of the 'first survey of the career path of higher education graduates, 2001', carried out as part of a project entitled the Monitoring System on the Insertion of Higher Education Graduates (Sistema de Observação de Percursos de Inserção dos Diplomados do Ensino Superior, ODES). The main findings are as follows:

  • those graduating in 1994/5 took, on average, six months to find employment;
  • jobs in the public administration accounted for almost half of the graduates, with the rest going to the private sector;
  • graduates in 'health and social protection' subjects took less time on average in finding their first job (three months);
  • between the completion of their course in 1994/5 and May 2001, there was a downwards trend in unemployment among the graduates surveyed. One month after the completion of their course, the unemployment rate for the graduates was 39%, while in May 2001 it was 1.9%;
  • some 90% of the graduates surveyed are working as employees, while 9.9% are self-employed (up from 8.5% one month after completing their course);
  • one month after completion of their course, around half (49%) of employed graduates had a fixed-term contract of employment and 29% had a contract of indefinite duration. In May 2001, the situation was reversed - 75% had a contract of indefinite duration and 22% had a fixed-term contract.
  • of the total number of graduates in employment one month after completion of their course, 32.4% had a job in organisations whose main economic activity was 'education', compared with 15.4% in 'health and social action' organisations and 13.4% in 'real estate, hiring and business services' organisations. In May 2001, the picture was similar, with education still the sector that absorbed most graduates, while the second and third most popular sectors of activity were still 'health and social action' (12.4%) and 'real estate, hiring and business services' (12%); and
  • with regard to the match between their degree and their subsequent employment, in general terms the vast majority of employed graduates surveyed feel that their professional activity is related to the area in which they completed their course. The proportions vary between 73.6% for 'social and behavioural sciences' graduates and 100% for 'veterinary sciences' graduates.

Commentary

The IEFP report highlights the issue of labour immigration, largely from outside the EU, which is very topical in Portugal at present. The trade unions believe that immigration is being used as a way of institutionalising more flexible forms of employment and keeping wages low - and thus as a means of deregulating the labour market - rather than being a response to any chronic shortage of labour. The issue has also led associations for the protection of immigrants to request that they be granted full citizenship.

The ODES study of graduates in the labour market reflects the situation in Portugal, whereby the private sector has been sluggish in absorbing qualified labour, especially in relation to professions connected to the service sectors. (Ana Almeida and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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