Businesses are starting to lose confidence in Panama's human talent, especially in IT, but efforts to boost capacity leave room for hope.

Panama is a country with tremendous opportunities; the country has the highest economic growth in Latin America, the recently expanded Panama Canal, and the region's airport hub. But, there is something still missing and is the reason why many multinational companies are immersed in a crisis: the lack of human talent, especially in IT.

The results of the last measurement of the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum show that there is a great knowledge and capacity gap in the country that must be closed to avoid the waste of talent, according to an analysis by the National Center of Competitiveness (CNC). At first glance, it looks like Panama made progress in this regard. Over the last year, the country reduced its talent and skilled labor deficit by 12% over the last year, going from 58% to 46%. However, the main explanation behind the reduction is not so encouraging: the decreasing deficit is due to a reduction in personnel search by companies, much like how unemployment numbers fall when people stop looking for jobs. As of April 2018, 90,841 work contracts have been registered in the Ministry of Labor and Work Development, 4,521 less than in the same period of 2017, when 95,362 were issued.

According to a study conducted by Manpower consultancy company, 46% of employers in Panama have difficulty filling vacancies, and 44% say the difficulty lies in the lack of skilled candidates. In Panama, four out of 10 companies failed to find the ideal candidates at the time they needed them.

The lack of technical skills of professionals is the main reason why managers perceive a shortage of talent in their companies. Due to the economic growth over the last decade, the increasing arrival of foreign companies, and the reduction of the unemployment rate to the lowest levels of the republican history, wages in Panama have increased significantly—to the point that they have ceased to be a determining factor in the recruitment and retention of talent by business organizations. In fact, offering good salaries is no longer enough when hiring a worker, regardless of the position they will occupy in the organization, since currently factors such as the reputation of the company, work environment, benefits that can be enjoyed by the collaborators, and even access to the latest equipment and technological programs are increasingly detrimental, not only for attracting new hires, but also when retaining talent.

The most difficult positions to cover in Panama, in order according to Manpower's survey, are technicians, IT, sales representatives, support staff in offices, accounting and finance personnel, drivers, and engineers. This lack of personnel that companies need to fill positions has a negative impact on the development of the company itself. For this reason, 71% of employers are investing in learning platforms to develop talent in their own companies.

TECNASA Group, for example, is launching 13 online courses on customer services that every new recruit for associate positions has to take when they join the company. The group's General Manager Gaby Aued explained to TBY that this is “…so they can understand our new vision and mission and see how we are becoming a management services and consultancy company.”

Samsung in Panama, in addition to educating trainees, has started to target students from an earlier age through outreach programs at the middle and high school levels. Should Panama step up its human resource capacity building regarding technical skills, the isthmus could become a prime location for companies looking to expand in the region. Stability, other strong economic indicators, and a window into a 130-million regional population otherwise make Panama a compelling case for a blossoming IT sector.