Mexico's Challenge: Theory Versus Practical Application

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 13:49

Investment in Mexico has created a talent war, mainly in highly industrialized areas, and has brought attention to the fact that the country needs more focused educational efforts. Stronger collaboration between companies and universities should ensure the industry is well-prepared for the expected growth in the industry

This is a common scenario in Mexico: the day after graduation. After five years of hard work, a student has fulfilled his dream of becoming an engineer. He loves cars and has landed an excellent job in a leading automotive company. The new graduate is ready to take the next step in his professional journey and he is excited to apply all he has learned at school. But when he arrives for training, he realizes that he has almost no practical experience to apply to his job.

Education in engineering is thriving in Mexico. According to the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard, Mexico is eighth in the world for producing the most natural science and engineering graduates, behind Korea, Germany, Sweden, Finland, France, Greece and Estonia. Over 100,000 engineers graduate each year in Mexico. Data from ProMéxico show that the automotive sector alone was responsible for over 875,000 direct jobs both in car and auto parts production as of December 2015. “These students already know where the job opportunities are and know they have an opportunity for a good quality of life,” says René Schlegel, President of Robert Bosch México. “[But] we have found that when people leave university, they do not know how to make the transition to work life.”

Although the talent pool exists, companies are still finding gaps between what students learn and what they need to apply in their jobs. According to McKinsey & Company’s Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works report, only 42 percent of the employers surveyed within the manufacturing sector considered new employees prepared for their job. Meanwhile, 40 percent of the Mexican employers surveyed considered lack of adequate skills as the main reason for persistent job vacancies and 36 percent of all employers considered this lack of skills as a reason for significant problems in terms of cost, quality and time.

Though this may be true, Mexico Automotive Review has found that most executives have high confidence in the skills of new graduates. Companies have fought to become more actively involved in the talent development process. The dual-education program is an excellent example of this collaboration. German companies brought their experience on talent management to Mexico, developing a career plan where students participate in real-life projects at a company while still at university. This provided future graduates with the skills and knowledge needed for their job, eliminating the need for extensive training after leaving school.

Players like Scania have also developed close relationships with universities with the goal of transmitting the real needs of the industry to academia. “Sometimes universities create a certain degree program but neglect to include the technical side, so the industry’s input is crucial to develop better educational plans,” says Enrique Enrich, Director General of Scania Mexico. “We have arrangements with several universities and some of them have asked us to participate in their lectures.”

The relationship between the private sector and academia is crucial for Mexico to move on to a higher added-value offering as, according to Israel Salas, Commercial Director of ceat and Técnica Test, “students, even from the best universities, are rarely aware of the intricacies of working for an automotive company.” Adds Schlegel: “It is not the same to prove a hypothesis or conduct an experiment than ensuring a process has enough replicability to last thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cycles. Especially in the automotive industry, products must withstand the strictest quality tests to ensure the safety of our clients.

Schlegel, however, sees training as a necessity and something unavoidable, not only in Mexico but in all countries. “Theoretical knowledge will always be more important in school life. When students come to us, they need to learn how to apply the concepts they already know,” he says. “We understand that there are skills graduates need to learn and we do not mind investing in our new hires. Moreover, new people come with fresh theoretical knowledge that we might not be applying. It is a give and take and we see it as a natural process.”