When the Brazilian government decided to build a pair of large, run-of-river hydro powerplants in remote Rondônia state, a shortage of skilled workers put not only the project at risk but also the government's Amazon Basin dam-based energy strategy and the profit margin of Odebrecht Energia, a leading contractor in the project consortium.

It took a finance guy to solve the people problem. Antonio Cardilli, representing Odebrecht as the administrative and financial manager of Consórcio Santo Antônio, conceived Programa Acreditar ("Program Believe" in Portuguese), a training program based in the capital city of Porto Velho. Set in a complex of repurposed government buildings, the program includes 32 hours of basic health and safety instruction, followed by up to 200 hours of training in building trades, ranging from bricklaying to electrical work to mechanical and machinery skills. "The company invested $15.5 million in the program," says Cardilli. Payback came quickly, as program graduates quickly found work at the dam site, seven miles upriver. About 80% of the workforce consists of local residents, nearly all of them Programa Acreditar alumni.


Odebrecht soon saw the value of the program and used it as a template for other projects far from Porto Velho. The firm has implemented the training regimen at seven other Brazilian states and near Odebrecht projects in Portugal, Angola and Mozambique. To date, Programa Acreditar has enrolled more than 68,000 people, including 42,000 in Porto Velho.

Cardilli, 50 years old, began working for Odebrecht at age 17. Though he started in materials procurement, "I have worked in human-resources management for a long time," he says. When the firm needed trained staff for a remote megaproject, he "felt able to coordinate and manage the Programa Acreditar."

After the dam is completed later this year, Leonard Borgatti, the consortium's project manager, says, "those folks will have skills they can take with them wherever they go."