Industry and academia in Mexican state of San Luis Potosí team up to train next generation

The boom in automotive jobs has been an important factor in bringing unemployment down in San Luis Potosí. In the last quarter of 2016 the state recorded the lowest ever unemployment level for the state and the fourth-lowest level in Mexico at 1.97%. As of January 2017 approximately 400,000 people were employed in the formal labour market. According to the Secretariat of Economic Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Económico, SEDECO), as of October 2016 some 37.3% of workers in San Luis Potosí incorporated into the social security system were employed in industry, while 15.2% were employed in commerce. The automotive industry is a major player in both of these areas. Dräxlmeier Group, the German automotive components supplier, for example, is the largest employer in the entire state, supporting more than 5000 workers.

What makes the state so attractive for manufacturing is its well-trained workforce. “If more US companies decide to leave, not only will they find a more expensive workforce, but they will also be missing out on qualified and well-trained Mexican workers,” Raúl Martínez Jiménez, president of the San Luis Potosí branch of the National Chamber of Industry (Cámara Nacional de la Industria de Transformación, CANACINTRA), told OBG. “In San Luis Potosí the public and private sector have both invested a lot in education and training, and we are now seeing the fruits of our labour.”

Joint Effort

The collaboration and interaction among educational institutions, the state government and companies that have chosen to invest in the region has been crucial to San Luis Potosí’s development.

While these companies praise the level of workers found in the state, they are also aware that they need to be proactive to ensure they get the best out of the local population. BMW, whose new plant is positioned to create 1500 new jobs, began training 25 local mechatronics engineers in 2015 by collaborating with the Technological University of San Luis Potosí (Universidad Tecnológica de San Luis Potosí, UTSLP). BMW has since launched similar programmes with local technical colleges looking to train production mechanics and automotive mechatronics experts. Encouraging this kind of dual education is one of the current administration’s objectives under its science and technology plan for the state, with Goodyear, Continental and Bosch among those with programmes in the state.

“Training the local workforce is a joint endeavour with local educational institutions, and we are seeing great potential,” Carlos Gutiérrez, head of government relations and external affairs at BMW in Mexico, told OBG. “Our collaboration with universities like UTSLP includes bringing experts from other plants around the world to share their knowledge, and encouraging workers from this plant go to train in other facilities. The idea is to be able to make the most of the technical experience we have,” he added.

BMW’s Munich and Spartanburg plants are helping to set up the factory in Mexico. Japanese carmaker Toyota also picked San Luis Potosí as the base for its Centre of Technical Training in 2008, even though its new factory will be built in Guanajuato.

Responding To Demand

Educational institutions have shown themselves to be flexible and able to develop according to the demands of industries based in the region. The Centro Educativo, Grupo Cedva, effectively began as a mechanic school but has developed into what it describes as a professional working institution. The group now offers three-year technological baccalaureates, three technical degrees, and an automotive mechanical engineering degree at its San Luis Potosí branch.

According to Annel Romero Velasco, director of engineering and baccalaureate programmes at Cedva, the centre is now incorporating an automotive engineering course at the técnico superior universitario level – an intermediary level between baccalaureate and a fully certified engineer. “Our courses often respond to what the market is demanding of us,” she told OBG. Cedva’s experience in the sector is such that the institution is collaborating with BMW in designing a course. “Our new course is part of an agreement we have with BMW, and we are finding that this is at the level that equipment manufacturers are looking for at the moment,” she added. Local institutions and multinationals have become partners in ensuring each other’s expectations are delivered. “We have to be very efficient to ensure not just that companies find a workforce here that matches the profiles they need, but also that the local people are able to find the jobs they want thanks to these opportunities”, Manuel Lozano, secretary of labour for San Luis Potosí, told OBG.

Investing In The Future

The dual education system also provides opportunities for the young population in the state. “They know they have an guaranteed job at the end of their studies, and when they start working they can in some cases double their family’s income,” Martínez told OBG. “Young people in San Luis Potosí now are not just looking to migrate north for opportunities, they understand that studying gives them more job options here,” he added.

With international companies arriving, language skills are also becoming more important; the state has responded by opening a bilingual university. According to Romero Velasco, this flexibility also encompasses training women, who are traditionally under-represented in the industry, to work with automotive companies. Based on industry requests, Cedva offers 50% scholarships grants to female students. “Companies want to balance out their staff and are asking us to train more women,” Romero Velasco told OBG. “While this could present a cultural challenge, international companies like BMW are specifically asking for this.”

From Industry To R&D

More than just training for jobs, San Luis Potosí’s universities are in a position to gain relevance as research centres. The Centre of Analysis for Research and Innovation, a Mexican think tank, ranked San Luis Potosí eighth of 32 states for public and private investment in science, technology and innovation. One of these is the Potosíno Centre of Scientific Investigation and Technology (Instituto Potosíno de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica, IPICYT), which provides scientific analysis for industries in the region. Alejandro Ricardo Femat Flores, director-general of IPICYT, told OBG that the institute is “convinced that knowledge, technology and innovation support profitable businesses that can transform society.”

In March 2017 Juan Manuel Carreras, governor of San Luis Potosí, announced the creation of the State System of Science and Technology, which he sees as a step towards increasing private sector contributions to and involvement in research and technology. “The Bajío region’s position as an area of high production capacity is an opportunity for San Luis Potosí to become a centre for research and investigation through the right investments and strategic interaction,” Femat Flores told OBG. Several companies have already begun this process, which bodes well for potential research and development centres and their staying power.



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The Report: Mexico 2017

San Luis Potosí chapter from The Report: Mexico 2017

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