TBY talks to HE Luis Ernesto Carles, Minister of Labor and Workforce Development, on the current state of the Panamanian labor market, and the ministry's coordinated efforts with the private sector to train human capital.

HE Luis Ernesto Carles
HE Luis Ernesto Carles has been the Minister of Labor and Workforce Development of Panama since May 2014 and Chairman of the National Coalition for Development, appointed by the President of the Republic. Previously, he served as an associate in Esquivel, Fernandez & Associates; he was attorney of the National Directorate of Business Development at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and legal advisor to the Ministry of Health. He graduated in Law and Political Science; also he has a master's degree in procedural law and a graduate degree in employment law and industrial relations of the Universidad Latina of Panama. He also holds a cathedra in philosophy and religious studies from the Universidad Rafael Landivar of Guatemala.

What is the current state of development of the labor market in Panama?

As a result of high economic growth (8% on average), all labor market indicators have been favorable. 96% of the workforce is busy, youth unemployment and informality has decreased significantly, while we managed to increase female participation in the labor force. While the dynamism of the economy has decreased, there have not been drastic changes in the labor market, among other reasons, due to the ambitious investment program we run between both the government and the private sector. The sustainability of economic growth is a key factor to generate decent jobs and is a priority for the Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development. We plan to strengthen the human capital program, for there is still a gap between the training offering and demand for skills by the productive sector. This affects the country's competitiveness and prevents the inclusion of a large segment of young people who have dropped out of the system and are embedded in the informal sector, many in conditions of vulnerability and insecurity. Another important task for this institution is to ensure that our workers enjoy better conditions in terms of security, access to adequate pay and their benefits are paid, as has been established in by Panamanian law. As part of a migration policy, we progress in a participatory manner in the design of mechanisms to allow for the orderly entry of foreigners into the country to fill the gaps left by the lack of training of local labor and that has been done more evident in light of the significant national growth in the last decade.

What role does the private sector play in the development of qualified human resources in Panama?

The private sector invests in schools in Panama, from pre-school to universities. In fact, of the 30 existing universities in the country, only five are public. On the other hand, the private sector, by law, is part of the Board of INADEH and includes three representatives appointed by the Council of Private Enterprise, an institution that is charge of approving all plans and programs of vocational training as well as other job skills program. The development strategy of the Ministry of Education is to offer students an education that reflects the realities of the working world. The Ministry also works with multiple chambers to coordinate efforts and prepare students to work in certain sectors of the economy. Bilingual Panama is a running program that foresees the training of 10,000 English teachers in the country, meeting the demand of the private sector. On the other hand, in face of the difficulties businesses face to fill jobs, especially in the technical area, INADEH is heading to training programs based on the needs of the private sector and with its dual training program, which allows students work experiences in companies.

What are the objectives of the Ministry and its top priorities for 2015?

One of our projects is the Pro Youth Program, expected to train 2,000 young people for the labor market. This will help improve the employability of this segment of the population; with the participation of INADEH, it is expected to develop a comprehensive training program designed to create the skills that the productive sector needs and increase productivity and competitiveness, while reducing the degree of informality in the labor market, which is 38.3%, although it has reduced since in 2005 when it stood at 46.6%; the number of inspections to ensure compliance with labor laws will increase by 10%; we work on the immigration policy in order to respond to the needs of specialized human resources, something the country still lacks. We also aim to modernize the facilities of the General Directorate of Employment and provide it with specialized human resources to ensure better care for visitors and better management.