Not long ago, Laborum’s General Manager María Angélica Zulic told Nearshore Americas how big the talent gap was in Chile, and how rapidly the demand for specialized labor was growing in the IT sector. Meanwhile, Marcelo Solari, IT staff manager at Kibernum stressed the fact that there was “a strong need for professionals with the right set of skills to perform in companies producing everything from mobile apps, to analyzing big data and cloud computing.”
Indeed, within the last decade Chile has developed its digital infrastructure and focused on educating its talent. Scholarships granted by institutions such as Corfo and Conicyt are two concrete examples of how much the government is trying to improve the quality of its human capital. As a result, today the country shows a solid digital environment, not only in the private sector realm, but also it has come as runner-up in the 2014 United Nations e-government survey for Latin America.
There are some booming IT areas where skilled workers are in great demand. According Carlos Busso, president of Chilean ICT association (ACTI), within the next two years the country will need “to double its 6,000 systems engineers and ICT technicians”. Busso also expressed that analytics of big data –representing a US$4.7bn opportunity for Chile– will employ around 9,500 specialists by 2018.
Universities and engineering schools are in a unique position to answer that need and help training the right talent. And they are excelling in that role. “Our graduates find offers very easily, even as students, for jobs related to information systems development, especially in companies with great demand for software developers,” says Yadran Eterovic, director of Computing Science Department at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC).
In fact, it is no secret that in Chile, as in the rest of Latin America, IT students see job offers dropping on their laps from very early on during their undergraduate studies.
Higher education in the South American country is known to be top-notch in the region, with University of Chile (UC) and PUC located at the top of the 2014 QS World University Rankings for Computer Science & Information Systems in South America.
According to Cecilia Reyes, scholar at the Computing Science Department at Federico Santa María Technical University (UTFSM) – another leading center when it comes to educating engineers in Chile – “we see a lot of opportunities for software developers in large companies, mostly for all kinds of mobile apps; it can be related to big data and database administration, testing, network management, systems management, even entertainment engineering.”
As it is tradition, mining, banking services and airlines are major employers for IT talent in Chile, “although the public sector has steadily grown its demand, and areas in the defense organizational structure are increasingly employing more and more IT professionals,” claims Eterovic.
In addition, astronomy is a field that very recently has been claiming its share of IT professionals. “Some of our graduates have been hired to work with the observatories in the northern region of Chile,” says Reyes.
Moreover, Jorge Villalón, professor at University Adolfo Ibañez (UAI), points to three recent technological movements – Big Data analytics, the Internet of Things and Cloud computing – which are also impacting the Chilean IT landscape, and consequently the specialized labor market.
Therefore, Chilean universities are working continuously to keep track of the industry’s development and emerging technologies that will determine new needs for talent. The rest of the work has to be supported by a world-class faculty, great mentors, availability of state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment, software and platforms, as well as opportunities for students to take internships at key global corporations.
Flexibility and Constant Updates
To respond the increasing demand for specific sets of skills within the IT labor market, strategies vary. For instance, ACTI will push for the creation of an entity to certify sector competencies and to re-train ICT to suit industry demand, Busso said.
Meanwhile, universities get relevant information about current gaps in the labor market from students’ internships reports, their relationships with corporate actors and global trends announced by major international agencies.
At UTFSM for instance, the Computing Science undergraduate program is organized in a way that allows the inclusion of new changes at short notice. “A set of mandatory basic disciplines is complemented by elective courses that every year are offered to train students in the use of new software or other technological developments breaking in the industry,” says Cecilia Reyes.
Accreditation from national and international organizations such as ABET.org can also make a difference. In order to be accredited, schools must include professionals who are active in the business as part of their IT department’s board. “They come as representatives from the industry and sit with us at least a couple of times per semester to explain new technologies, changes and prospects”, points out Eterovic.
Given that global IT corporations operating in Chile want to offer the same high level of service, products and to run controls with the same efficiency as it is done in the United States and Europe, another resource to anticipate the employers’ requests for specialized IT talent is to seek information provided by international advisers and associations, such as IEEE and ACM. Furthermore, many leading universities in Chile collaborate with top global IT schools.
In the meantime, UAI strategy is focused on strengthening its relationships with leading companies. “For two years we have been running the CloudLab Sonda-UAI which brings together academics, technicians, students and graduates in solving current problems with state of the art cloud technology. Likewise, we are talking to other actors in the private sector to improve our capabilities in terms of Internet of Things and Big Data Analytics,” says Villalón.
Finally, postgraduate programs are another valuable resource that universities usually offer to IT professionals already active in the workforce. In this sense, IT professionals tend to seek for options to continue their education, as new certifications and innovations emerge in the industry at such a fast pace. To answer that demand, schools design and implement tailored courses introducing new technological developments, or enabling training of a specific skill, such as learning how to use new software, or acquiring a certification that will improve professionals’ chances to get better job offers.
There is also the choice to design longer, more comprehensive programs, such as year-long masters’ programs that include the most recent updates in the field. According to Eterovic, that is the case for PUC: “we enroll approximately 30 postgraduate students per year in our postgraduate program.”