Ignacio de La Vega is optimistic about the future. As a dean and professor at Mexico’s Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM), he believes the prestigious college has already laid the groundwork for the next generation of skilled IT specialists.
With the demand for tech talent surpassing supply, US companies continue to seek answers south of the border, where ITESM has established itself as the preeminent powerhouse in IT education. Some market observers predict an acceleration in Nearshore transactions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic as companies of all sizes continue to recognizing that mastering digital channels is essential in order to stay relevant and, quite literally, remain alive.
De La Vega is confident ITESM (also known as Tec De Monterrey) is well-positioned to take advantage of these trends.
“[ITESM] is the closest university to this industry in Latin America… and an important talent pool for national and international markets,” said De la Vega, in an exclusive interview with Nearshore Americas last week. “It was the first university in the country to connect to the world wide web and the first to develop a remote learning model. In recent years, each one of our disciplines has adapted to embrace digitalization.”
Latin American colleges, such as Mexico’s Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM), are poised to take advantage of these changes.
Building the Right Culture
De la Vega has been bridging the gap between the private sector and education for more than three decades. Before his current role, he worked as Chief Learning Officer for BBVA bank and as director of IE Business School’s International Center for Entrepreneurship in Spain. Earlier this year, the Academy of International Business named him the International Educator of the Year in recognition of his commitment to expanding ITESM’s reach.
Founded in 1943 in the northern city of Monterrey, ITESM now has 26 campuses across the country. De la Vega said a culture of constant innovation has driven that expansion.
Recent technological initiatives have included the launch of an online coding school that trains full-stack web developers in just 24 weeks. Last year, ITESM opened the Mexico-China Innovation Center in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Through the hub, ITESM aims to form new research partnerships, as well as facilitate the export of technologies to the Chinese market.
A New Paradigm
ITESM’s latest innovation is Tec21, a radical overhaul of the curriculum that brings vocational training to the forefront. The program moves the focus away from classroom learning and invites students to tackle real-world problems. “It is a model of formation based on experiential learning,” De la Vega said. “The students learn through challenges.”
ITESM launched Tec21 as a pilot initiative in 2013. The college fully implemented the program for first-year students in August last year. As part of the new model, ITESM has teamed with a group of 15 companies to form a Digital Transformation Hub. Global tech firms such as IBM, T-Systems and HP will be among those collaborating with the program. These companies will offer work experience “labs” in which students engage in vocational training as part of their courses.
“Changes expected to evolve over the next five or ten years happened almost overnight. We are talking about the digitalization of whole industries.”
In December last year, the International Finance Corporation, a development institution that forms part of the World Bank Group, published a case study on Tec21. The report said the students “most valued learning opportunities outside the classroom” and argued the program “was especially effective when they connected with organizations beyond the campus.”
De La Vega said Tec21 students will graduate with a deeper understanding of their chosen field. He also believes the program will help hub firms find qualified tech staff. The 15 firms supporting the Tec21 program will have direct knowledge of the talent on offer, so hiring managers can save time and cut costs.
Training for Change
De La Vega argues the Tec21 model can adapt to disruptive events, even those as cataclysmic as the Covid-19 pandemic. “Tec21 is a formation based on challenges. Because of that model it is extremely flexible and responds to changes in the surrounding environment,” he said.
Due to the health crisis, ITESM has temporarily moved from face-to-face to online teaching. While unforeseen circumstances triggered the new use of virtual teaching platforms, De La Vega says the current model of remote instruction and teamwork has the advantage of closely replicating the prevailing practice in Nearshore operations.
While all industries have felt the effects of the recent economic downturn, De La Vega said the tech sector will be one of the winners of the “Big Reset” – the period of transformation many experts expect to follow in the wake of the crisis.
“We are seeing just a part of what is coming,” he said. “Changes expected to evolve over the next five or ten years happened almost overnight… We are talking about the digitalization of whole industries.”
But De La Vega is optimistic that ITESM’s new education model will prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the post-pandemic world.
“We are not only looking to form professionals at the vanguard in terms of tech sector knowledge,” he said. “But also professionals blessed with skills such as adaptability, the capacity to tackle unexpected problems and the ability to work in a multidisciplinary, remote team. In short, all skills that the Covid-19 crisis will foster.”