Panama has come a long way since my arrival to its shores in 1997. As I recall, employment was officially in the teens and things were looking worse with the upcoming American pullout with the canal treaty. Wow, have things changed. Official unemployment is around 6.7% and the reality is that there is a great challenge in finding qualified personnel. I don't see this being alleviated any time soon as more business is on the way, the canal construction is well underway and more hotels will be opening requiring hoards of service people. The real challenge for Panama is skilled labor and the only way I see this will change is to open up immigration to skilled labor for other Latin American countries. This will help to bring the level of service up dramatically as these new imports will train Panamanain's. If nothing is done the labor problem will become acute and businesses will look elsewhere for a larger skilled labor pool.
Roberto González Jiménez
To analyze unemployment in Panama is to pass on a road full of paradoxes. The economy has begun to grow at rates as in Asia, but the official unemployment rate is just barely reduced. Meanwhile, companies talk of the lack of skilled labor and cannot even find drivers to work in the new urban buses.
Although the country exceeded the international economic crisis without major problems, growing by 3.2% in 2009 and in 2010 regained the momentum after the crisis with a growth rate around 7%, unemployment declined only slightly in the last year .
According to the latest data from the Comptroller General of the Republic, the unemployment rate was 6.5% in August 2010, a level similar to a year earlier (6.6%).
The Household Survey also shows that the participation of the population in the labor market recorded a decline compared to August 2009, from the rate of 64.1% to 63.5%.
Apart from having a larger population of slightly more than 15 years (46,723 persons), how can we understand this apparent contradiction?
"This explains how we are growing," says Rolando Gordon, professor of the Faculty of Economics, University of Panama, who argues that the fastest growing segment in the country is transportation, storage and communications, "activities to compete using technology, but not many jobs. "
Sectors such as manufacturing or agriculture, which create jobs, have grown only marginally. "We should encourage the growth of other sectors that create jobs," he advised.
Yet workers missing
While unemployment figures do not reflect a sharp decline, there are sectors of the economy that can not fill their job demands.
In the hotel, for example, is quite difficult to find qualified bilingual people ", argues Sara Pardo, president of the Panamanian Association of Hotels. The gap between the worker and the job is in education and training. "In the end it all comes back to the same," he laments.
However, not only are there unfilled needs for highly qualified personnel.
Recently, the Minister of Presidency, Demetrio Papadimitriu, acknowledged they were having trouble recruiting all the staff needed to work on the Metro Bus, which offers a fixed wage and social security registration, two conditions that should be attractive an economy where informality rate is 42%, according to 2009 data.
Is there no work or no desire to work and follow in the formal economy?
Gordon argues that not everyone who is in the informal sector wants to be like that. "Many can not find work. Many would switch to the formal sector. "
It also stresses that "perhaps the rate of 6.5% unemployment is disguised as busy as we are expecting of those that sells a rose in the Central."
Although unemployment fell between 2009 and 2010, expands the perspective for the last decade, it is observed a drastic drop.
According to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), urban unemployment rose from 15.3% in Panama in 2000 to 7.9% in 2009.
In the region as a whole, there was also a downward trend, but not as pronounced.
The urban unemployment rate rose from 10.3% in 2000 to 8.1% in 2009. And by 2010 estimated to be completed in 7.5%, a reflection of economic recovery.
However, the ECLAC warns that "indicators of recovery does not ensure a decent job growth" and that the region, like the rest of the world, faces the challenge of transforming the way they produce to develop sustainable economies in the long term .