Speed recruitment event in Porto

How Porto is reversing brain drain to become a talent magnet

Porto was facing something of a self-perpetuating chicken and egg problem. Without jobs to go to, skilled people were leaving the city and heading to Lisbon or further afield in Europe in search of employment. And without a ready supply of skilled workers, businesses were reluctant to invest in Porto

It was “a landslide of migration”, says Ricardo Valente, City Councillor for Economy, Employment and Entrepreneurship, with almost a third of the population leaving from the 1980s to around 2016.

“Most of that loss of population was connected to the way we were losing economic relevance in the country and in the region,” he commented.

Recruitment and network event in Porto
Recruitment and network event in Porto

Porto launched the TERA strategy in 2022 to tackle this challenge on three axes: attracting, developing and retaining talent. TERA builds on previous talent initiatives and provides a consolidated plan until 2025.

“We really believe that the economic rebirth will happen at the city level,” said Valente. “And for that to happen, we need to have a strategy connected to talent. You need to try to close these gaps between the needs of companies and the available pool of skills in your city or region.”

The approach has been recognised internationally and is shortlisted in the Eurocities Awards, which will be held during the Eurocities Annual Conference in Cluj-Napoca in May.

Talent observatory

A foundational element of the strategy is the Talent Observatory, which pulls in and analyses various data sources to provide jobs and skills intelligence.

“We have here in the city a map of the streets and important points of interest, but we don’t have a map of talent. That’s completely stupid, so I thought: let’s build one,” said Valente.

“This talent observatory is basically a huge database where you can find all of the relevant information about the people and about the skills that you have here in the city.”

For example, data on graduates and enrolments in training courses can help companies understand the available skills base and make evidence-based decisions about operations in Porto. Meanwhile, individuals can make informed choices about training, working and living in the city.

If we have a technological revolution, we need to have an educational revolution too
— Ricardo Valente, City Councillor for Economy, Employment and Entrepreneurship

Through the Porto for Talent platform, individuals – whether residents in Porto or living overseas, or international jobseekers – can upload their CVs and receive notifications about relevant job postings. Employers and recruiters are able to search for available candidates via the platform. In addition, businesses can post roles directly to the site, which also aggregates jobs from major recruitment firms such as Hays and Michael Page.

So far, over 433,000 visits and 124,000 applications have been recorded on the Porto for Talent platform.

Another focus of the city’s efforts to attract talent has been participating in job fairs and networking events such as Web Summit, Porto Primavera Sound, and Happiness Camp. This has proved to be an effective method of engagement with almost 35,000 people visiting Porto’s booth at promotional events such as job fairs and networking events.

Education revolution

To foster the development of talent, Porto set up a free, personalised career guidance service, which has benefited over 2,860 people.

Under the umbrella of Porto Skills Academy, the city supports initiatives that will help cultivate the right labour market for today and tomorrow.

“If we have a technological revolution, we need to have an educational revolution too,” said Valente.

For instance, 42 Porto offers free software programming courses and has trained 290 students with the support of the City Council. The Ensico@Porto programme teaches computer science to children. To date, it has trained 1,970 students, up from just 75 in the initial phase.

Getting the programme going was challenging, Valente admits, and this highlights some of the cultural change required to implement a strategy like TERA. However, he was adamant in the belief that young people need to learn computer coding in the same way they need to learn Portuguese and foreign languages and is pleased that the programme is now established.

To date, 2,260 people have had the opportunity to develop their digital skills through the Porto Skills Academy and 9,000 people have participated in employability and soft skills development sessions since 2022.

Porto Economic Forum event
Porto Economic Forum event

Plans are now in the works to bring a TUMO Center for Creative Technologies to Porto. The programme has expanded to various places from its base in Armenia and offers free education for teenagers aged 12 to 18 with a focus on technology and design.

“It’s an incredible school where you can learn music, photography, robotics and more,” said Valente. “We thought let’s give children the ability to develop their creativity and be able to solve problems. We are very keen on developing these soft skills outside the traditional formal education system.”

Increasing tech diversity

Reskilling residents is an important aspect of development and retention too. Porto Tech Hub represents tech companies in the city and part of this is ensuring its member firms have access to the skills they need now and in the future. The organisation offers two main reskilling courses: in software development and quality control.

“When you are talking about this kind of course, you are often talking about a complete change of career for people,” said Joana Linhas, Vice-President of Porto Tech Hub. “We’re talking about men and women of different ages and from different backgrounds: we have journalists, architects, accountants, teachers and all of them are very important because they bring something new to the tech community.”

Soon, the organisation plans to launch reskilling courses on the Internet of Things and cybersecurity in response to employer demand.

We have seen a considerable increase in the number of qualified technology professionals thanks to the city activities, promotions, training and events that put all the stakeholders and all the interventions together
— Joana Linhas, Vice-President of Porto Tech Hub

Linhas has witnessed first-hand that the TERA initiative is improving skills availability in Porto.

“We have seen a considerable increase in the number of qualified technology professionals thanks to the city activities, promotions, training and events that put all the stakeholders and all the interventions together,” she said.

“I believe that there has been a more cohesive ecosystem because of that. All the different stakeholders collaborate on the development of talent.”

The retention axis includes initiatives such as the Porto Summer Academy, which was launched by Porto City Council in partnership with the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Porto.

The project brings together university students and businesses to build connections and help students understand the working world better. So far, 164 students have taken part, working with 92 companies to explore different job opportunities.

Porto also launched the Summer oPORTOnities project to help young people aged 18 to 21 gain their first work experience. The programme offers a taste of different jobs and types of companies to help young people think about their future and prepare for the job market. The project runs during the summer and is funded by Porto City Council and participating companies.

Over 837 companies and 1,450 jobseekers have participated in recruitment and networking activities that make up the retain axes of the strategy.

To address the specific challenges some people face in finding jobs, Porto has created targeted initiatives. One of these is the ‘(D) for Efficiency’ project, which has run annually since 2019 and focuses on enhancing the skills and employability of individuals with disabilities. The collaborative effort involves various partners including the Porto Cerebral Palsy Association.

Porto Economic Forum event
Porto Economic Forum event

Additionally, the ‘Porto_4_All’ project provides support and resources to help migrants find work opportunities and understand their employment rights.

Valente said: “Our idea was to build a system where we can help migrants to enter the job market quickly because that way we will save a lot of money in terms of social grants but also, importantly, integration will be easier.”

Migrants, including most recently those from Ukraine, also play a valuable role in filling skills shortages, he said.

So far, 56 migrants have been trained in employability skills and 124 companies participated in ‘Porto_4_All’ recruitment and networking events. Before taking part in the scheme, 82% of participants were unemployed and after, 73% were integrated into the job market and 91% felt more motivated to apply for work.

Facing the future

Challenges facing Porto’s talent strategy include scaling efforts and keeping up with demographic shifts and technological changes. However, TERA is a long-term policy with an annual budget of around €400,000.

“For me what’s really relevant and important is to be able to tackle the uncertainty behind economic activity,” said Valente. “At the end of the day, we don’t know what the technology of tomorrow will be, but what we can think about is the main skills that will continue to be relevant.”

Sarah Wray Eurocities writer