News Article

Matching Education and Industry Needs

Tue, 12/01/2015 - 17:52

The first panel of the day, Matching Education and Industry Needs, was moderated by Carlos Ortiz Gómez, Director General for Research, Technological Development, and Human Resources at the Ministry of Energy (SENER). Ortiz introduced the panel by stating the importance of communication across all sectors to address industry needs in the matter of qualified human capital. He claimed that there are several ways to address this topic. As he stated, “Ensuring that students have the appropriate talents is not a matter of investment, but a matter of ensuring the proper academic environment.” He encouraged panelists to introduce themselves and to provide their expert opinion on this topic.

Panelist Mario Zavala, Professor at the Faculty of Accounting and Administration of ANAM, gave a brief recount of the history of this problem, which he claims has existed for a long time. According to Zavala, since the period known as “Milagro Mexicano”, universities were considered as the final step for personal development. However, this line of thought failed to address labor demand and isolated universities from the job market. Zavala claims that the industry needs solutions “just in time”, but that universities teach certain subjects “just in case”. Ortiz agreed and stated that “Students attend universities expecting to acquire the necessary training, and universities must address that need.”

José Manuel Bas, Vice President of Human Resources for Mexico and Latin America at Laureate International Universities, spoke on the challenges universities are facing to train future professionals. In his opinion, planning is the main component of this problem, as it is necessary to proactively estimate the future needs of the industry. Bas claims that “If a student chooses a career based on the current market, by the time he or she finishes college, that career may be obsolete.”

Next, Patrick Schaefer, Executive Director of the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas El Paso Campus, compared his experiences at El Paso Texas to the situation in Mexican cities. He spoke of the need for engineers to generate leadership and communication skills and how to support them in doing so. Schaefer states that he “sees a lot of promise in Mexico and in relations between the country and the US”.

Schaefer was followed by Edgar Ángeles, Academic Director of Earth Sciences at Universidad Olmeca, who presented the contrasting point of view regarding academia. He states that one of the main problems faced by universities in Mexico is that the education system changes every six years, after each presidential election. The current education system is based on capabilities, and students are no longer failed for bad grades, which generates professionals who are unable to accept failure. Another problem is elementary education teachers who are not committed to education, mainly in the southeast of the country. This leads to university students who are entirely unprepared for college-level work and are unable to solve problems on their own. Ángeles also praised the importance of “informal” education, referring to communicative skills, ethics, and values. He states that universities are now implementing an “eco-education” model, which addresses both formal education and social skills.

Ortiz reinforced the need for curriculum planning, taking into account possible industry trends and analyzing the most necessary capabilities. After speaking on the role of the government and academia, he asked the panelists to comment on the role of the industry in addressing the university curriculum. Zavala answered by stating that the industry is essential to determine the educational needs of future employees, as these players set the requirements.  Zavala addressed Ángeles on teaching students to address the uncertainty of the market and stated that the industry “must consider the generation of talent as a permanent measure instead of in short bursts”. Ángeles agreed and added that “The most important matter is to reinforce education on basic science, as this disciplines hones a graduate’s problem solving ability.”

The moderator thanked participants and asked for audience questions. One audience member stated that “talent is addressing industry needs”, and claimed that school curriculums must be generated by an industry panel, as nowadays the universities seem to generate degree courses individually without considering industry needs. In response, Ángeles explained the process universities follow to generate new study programs that are generated by a “Comite de Carrera”, an autonomous body that determines the curricula, formed by 50% researchers and 50% industry representatives. Schaefer also reinforced the need to create networks among universities and the industry. As an example, he referred to a program called “Con Redes,” a public-private initiative to communicate these needs. He also claims that “We must teach our students to navigate in the darkness, since we may be industry experts but we cannot predict the market, so we must focus on strengthening our students’ abilities to face uncertainty.”