In late June, Google announced a US$2 million investment that aims to develop female tech talent in Mexico’s southeast, a region that has been historically marginalized, lagging behind in economic growth. The investment –implemented through the Google Career Certificate program as part of a wider, $US10 million program for the region– will benefit around 2,300 women, according to the company, and aims to increase their employment prospects and potential income.
The news was well received by Mexico’s tech community, which is well versed with the struggles of marginalized people in the country and has itself been dealing with an increasingly tight job market. But the question remains: can Google’s plan yield benefits beyond the talent itself and help develop local tech ecosystems?
According to Google’s own numbers, the certification program –implemented through the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and a network of partners in the country– has yielded good results. The program launched in 2019 with a US$1.1 million investment that benefited 1,200 young mexicans. Around 70% of graduates from the program received employment, and their income increased 30% on average.
Google makes no mention of the impact of the program on the local tech ecosystems themselves, though. While tech experts consider the development of local talent to be crucial for the individuals and their communities, they see potential for a vicious cycle of brain drain and stagnation in the ecosystems themselves.
“We’ve spoken to the IYF about that. We can form these people, but the key issue is how many [tech] jobs are up for grabs in the region. It seems they’re very few, and most of them are clustered in Mérida [Yucatán],” said Benjamín Huerta, President at Jalisco’s Institute of Information Technologies, also known as Ijalti.
“It comes down to a chicken and egg question. Forming tech professionals is worth it to create an industry, but you also need an immediate availability of opportunities to keep the talent from moving to cities with a more developed industry,” he added.
Mexico has a wealth of tech clusters and emerging hubs distributed throughout its territory. Guadalajara, Monterrey, Queretaro and Mexico City are amongst the most well known, but there are others struggling to position themselves as attractive destinations for investment and sources of both talent and delivery of software services.
“It comes down to a chicken and egg question. Forming tech professionals is worth it to create an industry, but you also need an immediate availability of opportunities to keep the talent”—Benjamín Huerta, President at Ijalti
Nevertheless, the strength of the top tech ecosystems has made it difficult for less developed ones to keep their talent around, affecting also their potential for growth. Guadalajara, for example, is a main attractor of software engineers from all over the country. Google itself, in its latest announcement, used a woman from Tamaulipas working remotely for a cybersecurity firm in Guadalajara as an example of their program’s success.
“It’s very common. Jalisco is the main draw for IT talent from all over the country, by far. We take talent from everywhere, including marginalized communities,” commented Francisco Medina, General Director of Jalisco’s State Council for Science and Technology (Coecytjal). “[Tech] salaries in the state are high enough to catapult these people away from poverty”.
Smaller tech clusters and hubs in Mexico know this, and find themselves ailing. Colima, for example, is seen as a candidate to be the country’s next technological sensation, thanks majorly to the quality of its engineers. Nevertheless, less than 1% of the graduates from the top universities in the state stay; most flee to Guadalajara or other, more promising tech ecosystems.
“Southeastern states should promote the creation of IT companies, but with added value […] It’s a matter of public policy. We [in Jalisco] have been doing it for 22 years”—Francisco Medina, General Director at Coecytjal
The situation is the same in Mexico’s southeast. Even in Yucatán, the most developed state in terms of its tech ecosystem, struggles to keep its talent around. Vanessa Burgos, General Director of Yucatan’s Science and Technology Park, told NSAM in a previous interview that they would rather keep their engineers around and push the local ecosystem forward through investment and creation of tech companies.
But that will require extra effort from the state governments themselves, explained Francisco Medina.
“Southeastern states should promote the creation of IT companies, but with added value. They can’t remain as vendors of software packages or administrative solutions. And the state and local governments themselves should hire services from these companies,” he said. “It’s a matter of public policy. We [in Jalisco] have been doing it for 22 years”.
Google assures it has been funneling funds to Latin America for over 17 years. In early June, it announced a US$1.2 billion plan for the development of digital infrastructure, digital skills, entrepreneurship and inclusion in the region.
Mexico is no stranger to development programs like the one announced by Google. Other tech giants –such as Microsoft– and NGOs –such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)– have been dropping funds on the country in an attempt to develop its tech talent pool. The success of such programs depends on how well they’re measured.
NSAM reached out to the IYF to obtain information on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that would be used to measure the impact of the program, but did not receive a response by the time of this publication.
“We’ve been looking for a KPI to measure the benefits to the ecosystem itself, but it’s a work in progress”—Benjamín Huerta, President at Ijalti
The funds provided by Google will be channeled through the IYF, an organization that works with several partners in Mexico to implement such programs. Its list of partners includes Ijalti, AmCham’s Mexican Chapter, Oxfam Mexico, the National Chamber of the Electronics, Telecommunications and IT Industries (Canieti) and Colegio de Bachilleres, among other public and private institutions.
Both Google and the IYF usually define the KPIs used to measure the success of their programs, though they also consult with their partners, explained Benjamín Huerta. When it comes to the impact on the tech ecosystems themselves, they are still working on it.
“We’ve been looking for a KPI to measure the benefits to the ecosystem itself, but it’s a work in progress,” he said.