The fact that the bioenergy industry generates jobs for highly skilled people is often taken for granted. But if universities and their programmes are an indicator of future top-of-the-pyramid employment markets, it becomes clear that the bioeconomy will transform this market across the world. In Europe, research and education in the field of bioenergy is speeding up, with major universities across the EU now offering over 60 dedicated masters and PhD programs (earlier post). France recently invited Indian students to visit the country to study and exchange experiences on biofuels and bioenergy (earlier post), whereas in the U.S. young scientists and researchers are being prepared for work in the sector via a series of special programmes.
Brazil, with its vast experience, offers us a sign of things to come. The country's biofuel industry is booming, with jobs opening in a myriad of sectors, from agronomy, sociology and logistics to engineering and biotech. In the month of April, the sugar and alcohol industry alone opened 42,000 new work positions, answering to 82% of the total generated by the transformation industry in the state of São Paulo, figures supplied by the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp) show.
According to Francisco Lupo, a professor at the Paula Souza Center, which runs 130 state-owned technical schools in the state of São Paulo, the heating up of the labor market in the sector is due, mainly, to two factors: expansion and modernization of old mills and the opening of new units in the state.
According to figures supplied by the São Paulo Sugar Cane Agro-Industry Union (Unica), 76 mills installed in São Paulo are now operating. Up to the end of the crop, it is estimated that 158 mills will be in operation - ten more than in 2006. "To supply the global demand for ethanol, the industries have expanded, improved their processes and renewed machinery. To work with this new reality professionals must prepare themselves," Lupo concludes.
Eric Ricardo da Costa, 33, is one of them. The young man left his native city of Jaguariúna, 120 kilometers away from the southeastern Brazilian state of São Paulo, and moved to Flórida Paulista, in the same state, 600 kilometers away from the capital. He went out to search for a job in the sugar and alcohol industry. And he found one. With two completed technical courses - Electronics and Mechatronics -; he has enrolled in the third, "Technician in Sugar and Alcohol" at the Eudécio Luiz Vicente Technical School, as he believes that the career, like the sector, has a prosperous future:
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Training in the field of electronics contributed to make the student into a specialist in automation of mills, one of the main aspects in modern sugar and alcohol mills and, for this reason, greatly disputed in the labour market, mainly in the western region of the state of São Paulo.
"In the Flórida Paulista region alone (where the company in which Costa is working, Floralco, is located), in a radius of 300 kilometers, there are eight mills in operation. Up to 2010, there will be another seven," explained Costa, pleased with the possibilities that are arising.
In the last term of the technical course, in 2005, Costa started working for Floralco, in charge of automation. With the growth of the industry - which expects to process 2.2 million tons of sugarcane this year -, the student was soon promoted. In less than two years, he was assisting the manager of the entire production line in the mill.
"I develop programs for company management. The furnaces, for example, which used to be controlled by 10 men, are now monitored by just one person, sitting in front of a computer," explained Costa. Remuneration is also accompanying the market. Costa explains that he earns around R$ 2,000 (US$ 1,020) a month, a value considered very good for the region.
Another career that is in the wake of the growth of the sugar and alcohol sector is chemistry, or better, alcohol-chemistry. The training is the same as that taken by Costa, "they are chemistry technicians specialized in sugar and alcohol". The Paula Souza Center, for example, trains around 80 professionals a year.
"And, currently, they all leave the school employed," stated Francisco Lupo. Over two years the students learn to control and supervise technological processes for the production of sugar, alcohol and byproducts of the industry.
"They are also prepared to deal with the quality of all phases of the productive process and to implement national and international norms that must be followed by the sector," explained Lupo. One of the strong points of the course - which guarantees employment - is the compulsory internship for students in the last term of the course. After the internship, according to Lupo, most of them are hired.
New products, new jobs
Apart from sugar and alcohol mills, alcohol-chemists have started working in the development of new products based on cane. One of the examples is PHB Industrial, the result of a partnership between groups Irmãos Biagi and Grupo Balbo. Since 1995, the company has been producing biodegradable plastic from the fermentation of sugarcane.
According to Eduardo Brondi, the company director, the plastic may be used to make packages, medication capsules, etc. The greatest advantage is disposal. "When disposed of in nature, it is biologically active, and, with bacteria and fungi, is absorbed and once again made into carbon-dioxide and water," he stated.
The sugarcane plastic was developed through a partnership between the company and professionals in the chemical area at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the São Paulo state Institute for Technological Research (IPT). For the production of a kilogram of plastic the use of three kilograms of sugar is necessary.
Another important point, apart from production from a renewable raw material and biodegradability, is that the plastic is made in a clean manner. The energy for the process, for example, is obtained from the fiber contained in the sugarcane bagasse. The part that does not become energy or bio plastic is also used: it goes to crops, as an input.
The new product, according to the specialist, opens space for various professionals, from those working at the factory, in the production of plastic, to those at the end of the line, developing, discovering applications - in industry, fashion, design - for sugarcane plastic.
The boom of ethanol has also been moving universities, and some have even created post-graduate courses in the sector. At the College of Agriculture (Esalq), there are currently three kinds of courses in the sugar and alcohol sector: "Investment and management of agro industry", "Specialization in agricultural management" and "Specialization in industrial management".
The courses last 18 months and cost approximately 650 reais (US$ 330) per month. According to Daniel Sonoda, from Esalq, three classes have already graduated in the course in the agricultural area, three in the industrial course and one in the investment course.
"The demand for the courses has been growing significantly. One example is the agro-industrial management course, we opened 40 positions and had 80 inscriptions, we decided to open a second group in the second term," he explained.
According to Sonoda, the profile of the students is varied, but a change has been noticed in recent years. "Before it was veterans in the sector who sought this kind of learning, but now it is the professionals who recently started in the sector who are interested in it," he explains.
To supply the demand for knowledge in the sector, other courses should arise this year, according to Tiago Quintella Giuliani, Agroenergy coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.
According to Giuliani, the government should sign an agreement with Esalq and other universities to create more courses in the area of sugar and alcohol and also in the field of agro-energy. The date has not yet been defined, but it may be this year.
Image: at the Eudécio Luiz Vicente school, bioenergy researchers are educated.
ANBA: O álcool que emprega - June 11, 2007.