Dream. Believe. Achieve.
In the Brazilian state of Rondônia, the “Believe” program teaches workers the skills they need to build the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira River
Written by: Cláudio Lovato Filho
Photos by: Edu Simões
Washington, the instructor, with Silmara and Meyriele: apprentice welders have high personal and professional hopes for the future
In April 2008, truck driver Jean Jeyme da Silva Magalhães, 35, saw an ad for the “Believe” Program in a Porto Velho newspaper and decided to sign up for it. Jean wanted to make some changes in his life. After four years in the Air Force, a year teaching primary school, and eight years driving a truck on the roads of Brazil, he decided it was high time to spend more time at home with his wife, Esteliana, a schoolteacher, and their children, a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.
It didn’t take long for him to get into the “Believe” course. He took the basic and technical modules (including 80 hours of training) and in May he not only graduated but Odebrecht hired him as an instructor for the program. Now, Jean is teaching his students to operate the dump trucks that will be used to build the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira River in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, where Odebrecht broke ground in August 2008. The concession company responsible for the hydroelectric plant is Madeira Energia S.A. (MESA), a Special Purpose Corporation led by Odebrecht.
“I’m enjoying this experience,” says Jean, who had never driven the types of trucks used on construction sites before he took the “Believe” course. Now he wants to work on the construction project. “Experiencing first-hand what it’s like to work on a major project will be new for me,” he says. “If I get the chance to do it, I won’t let it slip through my fingers,” he adds. “This is a challenge I’m determined to take on.”
Jean the instructor is one aspect of the Ongoing Professional Qualification Program (“Believe”) conceived by Odebrecht and developed in partnership with the State of Rondônia, the City of Porto Velho, the SENAI (National Industrial Apprenticeship Service) and the University of Rondônia (Uniron). The aim of this program is to have 70% local hires in the workforce building the plant, which will require 9,000 people at the peak of construction.
600 students per day
Three thousand eight hundred people have taken the “Believe” Program since it got started in April 2008. And it has had over 22,000 applicants. The number of active students in the program averages 600 per day, including those taking the basic and technical modules.
The first module consists of 32 class hours. Students learn the basics of health, workplace safety, environmental management, quality and occupational psychology. During the technical module, which can take up to 200 class-hours to complete, participants are trained to become bricklayers, carpenters, steelfixers (rebar workers), concrete vibrator operators, welders, electricians, mechanics and equipment operators. The classes are held on the campus of Uniron, a private university in the city of Porto Velho.
Silmara Fialis Dinis, 26, and Meyriele Vieira da Costa, 22, completed the technical module in August. Both women are now trained welders. They took the basic module and went on to take classes at the welding shop. Along with five more officially opened in July by Governor Ivo Cassol, this workshop is housed in the gym that Odebrecht built on the Uniron campus. Once the “Believe” Program ends in three years’ time, the gym will be donated to the university for sports and athletic activities.
“I was scared at first,” says Silmara. “I thought I was going to burn myself.” The single mother of a nine-year-old boy, she used to sell sand before joining “Believe.” She decided to sign up when she saw an ad for the program on TV. She thought it was only for men, but decided to check it out anyway and found that “Believe” also accepts women. She chose the welding course (40 class-hours) because it didn’t require previous experience, unlike the heavy equipment operators’ course, for example, which trains truck drivers. Her instructor, Washington Nunes da Silva, from SENAI, says she is doing excellent work: “She has surpassed our expectations. She is very detail oriented.” Silmaria smiles when she hears herself being praised. “Welding is like driving: you have to learn the skill and keep practicing.”
Silmara and Meyriele are inseparable. They met through “Believe.” When she joined the program, Myriele was taking a prep course for college entrance exams. She wants to study Nursing. Silmara also intends to go to college: her aim is to study Nutrition. Meyriele had gone to “Believe” to sign her brother up for the course. She thought there was no place for her among apprentice welders and electricians, but she soon changed her mind and ended up enrolling too. Her instructors are also full of praise for her progress. “When you work with welding, you have to pay attention to the details,” she observes.
Instructor Washington da Silva was born in Santo André, São Paulo, and has lived in Rondônia since 1982. His wife, Carmen Lúcia, died when their two children, Ingrid and Hítala, were 2 and 3 years old, respectively. Now they are 18 and 19. He raised them on his own. “It’s a huge responsibility to work with women, and it’s also fascinating,” says Washington. “I try to pass on one idea to them all the time: ‘Women can do anything!’”
They can and they do. Proof of this is the story of another “Believe” participant, Maiara Ribeiro Lacerda, 22. She has a technical certificate in Environmental Management and found out about the program in February 2008. Odebrecht was looking for an Environmental Management professional to teach classes in the basic module. Maiara had no prior teaching experience – she was working for a grain exporting firm based in Mato Grosso with an office in Porto Velho – but she took on the challenge of getting the environmental preservation message across in the classroom. Above all, she loved having an opportunity to teach. The atmosphere she sensed at Odebrecht also weighed heavily in her decision to take the job. “Odebrecht wants to groom people for life, not just to work at the company,” observes Maiara. “I always tell my students that. There is a conviction at Odebrecht that you can only succeed through mutual respect and teamwork.”
By the end of July, Maraia had already taught 51 classes in the basic module. Each group takes three classes in her area. In other words, between March and July, Maiara gave 153 classes. And she is just getting started in the teaching profession. She emphasizes that there is no secret to it: “Information is the main tool.” In her classes, Maiara explains how students can build a hydroelectric plant while preserving the environment, stressing the importance of a well-developed Environmental Impact Study, among other things.
“A bond has been forged”
Jean, Silmara, Meyrieli and Maiara were all born in the city of Porto Velho. The “Believe” Program was created for people like them. “A partnership has been established,” says Antônio Cardilli, the Odebrecht officer Responsible for Administration and Finance on the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant project and the coordinator of the “Believe” Program. “A bond has been forged. By the time these students finish the course, they’ll have TEO (the Odebrecht Entrepreneurial Technology) in their blood.”
Cardilli is convinced that, whether or not they join the workforce building the hydro after completing the program, these students will join it, when invited. “‘Believe’ is showing people what Odebrecht is all about and what the project will be like. Everyone knows that the company and the construction of the Santo Antônio plant will give them an opportunity to develop. We are going to be the first choice of our future members,” says Cardilli.
The idea for the program and the development of its syllabus and teaching methods – in short, all the theory and practice taught through “Believe” – resulted from two years of work within the Odebrecht Group. “Based on the know-how and experience of our organization’s teams, and particularly working on the basis of the core principles and values of TEO, we have managed to get an innovative initiative underway, and it is already getting results. We expect it to become a benchmark for Odebrecht companies in their projects in Brazil and other countries,” observes Cardilli.
Most days, Cardilli talks to visiting Odebrecht members working on different action programs in several parts of the world who want to get a first-hand look at this initiative. “What we have here is a seed that will produce many fruits,” he says. Odebrecht’s José Bonifácio Júnior, the Implementation Director for the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant construction project, emphasizes that the “Believe” Program chiefly represents a service provided to the community. “The 22,000 people enrolled in the program today represent nearly 15% of the economically active population of Porto Velho,” he points out. “The ‘Believe’ Program will leave an important legacy in this city – the people who have taken this opportunity to learn valuable job skills that will enable them to earn better wages and have more buying power. Above all, it will give them a better quality of life.”
There are currently 1,195 people working on the project, including 1,078 local residents (90%) who have taken part in the “Believe” Program. Of that total, 117 (roughly 10%) are women, which is a high percentage for this type of project. “Usually, it’s less than 2%,” says Antônio Cardilli.