Interview: Guillermo Echeverría Miller

How can Mexico’s burgeoning manufacturing sector benefit from a commitment to R&D?

GUILLERMO ECHEVERRÍA MILLER: R&D in Mexico currently represents approximately 0.5% of GDP, which reveals our limited tendency towards research activities. However, the government is committed to increasing this budget to 1% by 2018 with institutions such as The National Council for Science and Technology (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, CONACYT) and the National Entrepreneur’s Institute (El Instituto Nacional del Emprendedor, INADEM) driving forward several initiatives from small and medium-sized enterprises that need to be supported by policies incentivising R&D initiatives locally, not just on the national scale. Also, Mexico needs to move towards a more collaborative culture, for instance, like in the United States, where the most successful companies have created strong business relationships with other firms. It is in the interest of companies to create partnerships with local and foreign firms in order to encourage R&D in the country. Then we could use our solid manufacturing industry to put our innovations into practice.

Currently, Mexico has 110,000 manufacturing engineers graduating every year who will eventually earn between MXN6000 ($362) and MXN14,000 ($844) per month. If the country were able to further its research activity levels, the salaries of engineers could increase, which would eventually benefit Mexico’s economy. Nonetheless, it is hard to find funding sources for certain projects due to the uncertainty of returns from R&D. It is therefore important to find alternative financing opportunities from government mechanisms and institutions. The sector needs support from all sources – both public and private.

The government would be an ideal catalyst for foreign investment in R&D as long as it is able to effectively promote Mexican quality and innovation. CONACYT and INADEM could echo the hard work ProMéxico – the government trust fund to promote global trade and investment – is doing to encourage tourism and other key sectors. If Mexico wants to experience sustainable growth, the country must further diversify its economy and refrain from promoting its inexpensive workforce as the country’s main source of competitiveness.

Some Asian emerging countries went through that process already and it made them more competitive. It is time for our country to value our qualified engineers and encourage them through important research projects. Further cooperation between private companies and educational institutions is fundamental if Mexico’s R&D sector wants to grow and eventually become competitive on a global scale.

In what way is training fundamental in increasing the use of new technologies and materials?

ECHEVERRÍA: Encouraging a tight collaboration between universities and companies when it comes to training engineers seems essential. If we can get universities to better understand the needs of private companies, they will be able to improve the design of their curricula and teaching methods. While Mexico is considerably advanced in terms of the number of research centres and specific industry training programme, the workforce still suffers from a lack of integration between traditional engineering tasks and R&D related processes.

The underlying challenges that have to be addressed involve how Mexico can attract R&D projects with inexperienced people and, vice versa, how it can encourage experience when engineers do not have sufficient projects. Mexico has already caught the eye of many foreign investors, who are looking to help in these two regards by investing in human capital. In the automotive industry, this is being shown with the arrival of experienced foreign engineers coming to train local workers. In about a decade we expect local engineers to be heading important R&D programmes.