Technical Education and Competitiveness

As 2016 dawns, Argentina is facing serious challenges. In the coming years, the country will need to modernize its economy, improve citizen security, and reestablish its position in the world. Above all, it must deal with a major human capital shortfall in order to expand its workforce and deepen its talent pool.

It is no secret that we are increasingly living in a knowledge-driven society, and thus a knowledge-driven economy. The "internet of things" and the sharing economy are blurring traditional forms of employment and making a deep impact on our labor market. Like workers in other countries, Argentines are finding themselves in the middle of a global competition for talent much different from the previous generation. It is estimated that today's young people will change jobs more than fifteen times over their professional careers.

That is where improved education comes in. Argentina has previously been an education leader in Latin America, setting the bar for both access to and quality of education at its universities and technical schools. However, as international evaluations have shown over the past several decades, the country still has a long way to go in terms of improving quality and boosting graduation rates.

That's why the recently appointed Minister of Education, Esteban Bullrich, is leading a new national conversation on education quality and social mobility. As he believes, the bottom line is that every citizen, regardless of birth, has a right to the best possible public education to prepare them for life and work.

In the area of job training, especially, there is a lot of room for improvement. Despite the more than 600,000 students in technical secondary schools, almost 200,000 in technical higher level schools, and more than 400,000 in professional training centers, the percentage of students engaged in such technical or vocational training is still quite small compared with the total population.

This kind of training, which is supported by the National Institute on Technological Education (INET), a branch of the National Ministry of Education and Sports, should be much broader. Many simply don't have the chance to move on to university. Yet Argentina invests more than twice as much into its university system as it does into professional and technical education - with just 10 percent of university students graduating each year.

In addition, there are more than 20 million adults who remain outside of the formal education system. As such a large portion of the workforce, these people will need some form of training or continuing education in order to adapt their careers to the 21st century. As technology continues to evolve, they must be given the tools to evolve with it, and acquire new skills, both hard and soft.

As Miguel Punte, an expert in Human Resources and now Secretary of Employment at the Labor Ministry, has argued, Argentina's multiple ministries and departments tasked with professional training and labor programs should be strengthened. They need a shared mission, one oriented towards facilitating skills acquisition, both for those who didn't make it to university and those who have been left completely out of the system.

This kind of human talent development will be vital in order to recover Argentina's competitiveness. As we've seen in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, and Japan, developing professional talent is an essential part of enhancing the productive capacity of a nation.

Our objective at INET is to build upon what has already been achieved. To begin with, we will focus on the 2005 Law of Professional Technical Education. This legislation defines what the state can offer to workers at the local and national levels in order to better link instruction with the needs of the job market - and thus create a virtuous cycle of demand for more workers and growing employment. As Minister Bullrich has said, "We want to develop regional economies and have technical schools very connected to those economies."

What Argentina is aiming for is an open, competitive, and growing economy. This vision will require strong investment in our human talent. The greater access to education achieved in recent years must now be coupled with higher quality and more skills-focused educational options. This is our challenge, and our opportunity.