Argentina has long been a safe bet for companies in the Nearshore market.
“The knowledge services industry is the third largest export industry in Argentina, generating around US$6 billion annually. Around 60% of this comes from general BPO services, 30% from IT services and the rest from creative industries,” Sebastián Mocorrea, President of Argentina’s knowledge-based services association, ARGENCON, told Nearshore Americas.
The country’s knowledge service industry employs some 437,000 people, accounting for 8% of Argentina’s total working population. Most major digital companies, including IBM and Amazon, have a presence in the country.
Chart-topping English-language abilities, a shared timezone with the US and good currency conversion rate make Argentina the ideal place to locate Nearshore services. Now, the boom in outsourcing has given the country’s key players the impetus to grow.
“There is great potential here,” said Sergio Candelo, President of the Chamber of the Argentinian Software Industry (CESSI).
“The IT sector of the knowledge services industry employs about 130,000 people at the moment. Our idea is to grow that amount to 500,000 by 2030,” he added.
But as demand for outsourced knowledge services expands, one key component of creating a strong IT ecosystem is putting the brakes on Argentina’s grand plans to capture more business.
Free public universities and other private institutions should generate an educated workforce well capable of supporting growth. Yet the industry’s aims to generate its market by developing more highly-skilled technical talent are being hampered.
“The Argentinian ecosystem is never going to be able to offer the world huge numbers in terms of quantity, at least not in comparison to, say, India,” explained Pablo Baldomá Jones, President of Polo IT La Plata, a regional chamber that promotes industry interests. “Instead, we need to work together to develop more engineers rather than developers so that we can offer extra value to customers world-wide.”
“Software developers develop apps with readily available tools, while software engineers create tools to build software. There is much more value created by an engineer than a developer,” he said.
“Developers tend to do everything that engineers do but on a limited scale and so salaries are higher for engineers since they create more value.”
However, most Argentinian universities offer five-year degrees for tech subjects. This is a major obstacle that sees graduation rates fall heavily, and, with tech skills evolving so rapidly, can provide students with a skillset that is not optimized for the job market they move into.
“We want to push people to have long careers, but not through studying for a long time. At the moment, most university degrees are too long to finish,” he added.
Jones points out that though some universities offer an “intermediate” graduation, whereby students can graduate within three years, the majority push students to stick to the five-year model. The extreme shortage of talent means students are barraged with job offers after completing just a couple of years study, meaning most students leave their studies are qualified only for junior developer positions rather than finishing as software engineers.
“The National University of La Plata’s (UNLP) IT Faculty has 1,500 students enrolled in the Informatics course this year. But most years only 50-60 students actually qualify. Why? Because a lot of students leave their careers because they get a job working in a company here or for companies in the US or Europe. After two years of study they know enough to get a job and they also realize that they can learn more in the market than at university,” said Jones.
The aim to have half a million IT employees in Argentina in less than a decade is forcing the private sphere act. Polo IT has used its connection with UNLP, Argentina’s second-largest university, to help update tech degrees and create a new course, Analista TIC (Information and Communication Technologies Analyst), intended to provide relevant, up-to-date knowledge.
“Larger universities generally move slower than what the market needs. We tried to work together to speed the process and give students practical skills they will need in their everyday work lives,” Jones explained.
Argentina is also rolling out IT education efforts at a macro level. CESSI is working alongside the national government to promote Argentina Programa via its #YoProgramo course. The free training course is intended to supply students with all skills necessary to become full-stack junior devs. Recently, it has seen a massive upswing in subscriptions. In October 2020, 150,000 people subscribed to the course. The new version of the course, which will start in a few months, already has 400,000 subscribers.
“The pandemic has brought technology to the attention of more people,” Candelo said.
ARGENCON has previously run programs alongside NGOs and the Inter-American Development Bank to provide digital education to underserved populations. While those efforts were a success won plaudits, Mocorrea wants to do more.
“The programs were a success. But in this industry, you need big, big numbers,” he said.
Now, ARGENCON is working alongside Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM, Accenture, Globant, Mercado Libre and coding school Digital House to build a Massive Open Online Course to collect, collate and organize all free digital educational sources into one single platform that can then be used to promote the learning of digital skills.
The hope is that alongside other initiatives, a stronger foundation of IT skills can be built in the country, establishing a basis for long-term success where Argentinian IT prowess can stand out.
“We want to create a constellation of resources for the population to access, and move the needle towards superior IT skills,” said Mocorrea.