MexicoFIRST – an innovative skills-development program for young professionals – has exceeded expectations by certifying over 70,000 professionals in the information and communication technology (ITC) field, beating its original target of 65,000. According to MexicoFIRST’s acting manager, Juan Saldivar, they have (with help from the Economic Secretary and the World Bank) invested just over 800 million pesos in these training programs.
Currently providing around 400 certification options, MexicoFIRST is looking to expand operations and training and begin certifying personnel from the construction, aeronautical, biomedical and automobile sectors.
In an exclusive interview with Nearshore Americas, Saldivar explained how Mexico’s telecommunications reforms will attract new players to the market and help fill the need for qualified personnel.
Nearshore Americas: MexicoFIRST recently launched its sixth round of certifications for Mexican students. What innovation does this offer and how many will be able to enroll?
Juan Saldivar: It is a pilot scheme looking to reach youngsters whose universities don’t provide a certification program or have any contact with IT providers. I don’t believe anyone can effectively cover 100% of the education sector. And there are a lot of students who would like to get certified, it’s just that their university doesn’t offer that option.
If they pass, they are immediately refunded the cost of the exam, which is the equivalent of the backing we provide on the regular programs. We also suggest they download educational materials free of charge, which will help them on their way to obtaining their certification. We look to involve between 700 and 1,000 students in this pilot scheme, and hope that over the next year or two we can come up with even better ways in which to collaborate with these universities.
NSAM: How are you reaching these universities?
JS: We visit the universities, letting the students know exactly what we have to offer. We emphasize the benefits of our program, as well as the importance of the certifications we provide. Social networks have helped greatly in this regard. In fact, our social network has gone crazy. Students are noticing the Scheme, asking questions and spreading the word. MexicoFIRST has played a small part in the remarkable growth of Mexico’s exportation of IT services, which currently brings in around US$6 billion; setting Mexico up as the third largest global provider.
NSAM: To date, how many people has MexicoFIRST trained and certified?
JS: As we have informed the World Bank, to date, we have trained 90,000 individuals, and have certified 70,000, which exceeds our original target of 65,000. Just over 800 million pesos (US$61.6 million) has been invested in financial backing for the students. Since initiating the MexicoFIRST program five years ago we have worked closely with universities, suppliers and training partners.
We are currently collaborating with 84 technology businesses, offering around 400 certifications, covering virtually the complete IT spectrum. Our job is to make sure all internationally recognized certifications are included in our program, ensuring our catalogue keeps up with technological advances. MexicoFIRST is unbiased when it comes to brands or platforms, not favoring one over another. It lets the market itself, with its varying needs, dictate the way to go.
NSAM: MexicoFIRST has chosen to expand operations in order to reach the construction, aeronautical, biomedical and automobile industries. Why did you decide to take this on?
JS: We are constantly looking to improve the service provided to the industry in general. The industries you mention are experiencing noticeable growth within the country, so we are looking to include them by offering IT solutions that will help to optimize their growth. We are currently in the planning stage. By the third trimester of 2014, we hope to have a clearer idea of the strategy we intend to follow.
NSAM: Mexico is rapidly becoming one of the leading IT service providers. This requires a lot of certified personnel. Are there enough human resources to fill this demand? If not, how are you planning to make up the deficit?
JS: MexicoFIRST is taking initial steps to make programs available to youngsters who are not yet enrolled in universities. It is hoped that this will awaken their desire to study engineering. Low engineering graduate figures is a global problem. Mexico however is currently producing more engineers than both the United States and Germany. Letting the youngsters know about these certifications enables them to visualize a future in the industry. We strongly hope that this will set them on the path to a career in engineering.
There are two main problems – one quantitative, another qualitative. I am certain that the quantitative problem will not be too much of an issue for us, as there should be enough technical graduates to be able to fill demand. The qualitative problem, on the other hand, is more difficult to fix, as the graduates do not possess all the skills required by the industry, which results in structural unemployment. Our support systems are looking for ways to resolve this problem. Yes, the youngsters may be inexperienced, but they do have the skills needed to be contracted.
NSAM: What affect will the telecommunications reforms promoted by the federal government have on the demand for human resources?
JS: As a Mexican, I really hope that the reform will bring investments, growth, and new employment opportunities. We are keeping a close watch on the market, because as new businesses arrive we are the ones that will provide the needed human resources. Each business will bring their own platforms, which will require specific certifications. We are aware of their needs and are sure we will be able to provide the support they require. As competition increases, Internet access and apps will become more widely available and connection rates will have to be lowered. MexicoFIRST will be on hand to train and certify the staff needed to make this happen.
NSAM: How have you kept in contact with the people you have trained and certified? Has their training really resulted in higher salaries, promotions and other benefits?
JS: Last year, with help from the research firm Select, we carried out a study following the progress of 400 of our graduates, as well as the businesses that had sent them for training. The study “Analysis of the MexicoFIRST Universe” showed that nearly 80% of the graduates received at least one promotion within the first year of receiving certification. The study also showed that many students were promoted to better positions, such as project leader, analyst or executive, working in areas such as, information security, networking, systems administration and support and maintenance.
Ninety-six percent of the businesses interviewed said that they would recommend certifying staff, as they noticed real improvements in the staff they sent to be trained. They claimed that they were able to see a very quick return on their investment as the graduates came back with an improved work ethic, greater productivity and an all round better performance. They also noticed lower staff turnover. The certified employees are considered valuable assets and are often awarded promotions, which results in greater staff loyalty and lower turnover.
NSAM: As well as certification, how are the students being helped to develop other soft skills such as conversational English, working well in a team and heading up projects?
JS: This presents us with a dilemma, as we can sometimes fall into the trap of taking one of the best technicians and turning them into one of the unhappiest administrators. This is often done with the best of intentions; looking to acknowledge and reward their efforts.
MexicoFIRST offers English courses as part of our portfolio. We recognize the importance of this language in the workplace. Once certified in this area, international clients can be confident that the graduates are up to the job as they will be able to converse with them without difficulty. We also offer a variety of soft skills for professionals in the IT sector. These include; conflict management, team management, project administration and ITIL (information technology infrastructure library), involving conceptual development.