Time and time again, overly ambitious initiatives to develop human capital are being pegged as the “next great solution” to the Nearshore IT talent crisis, only to stumble and fail to reach target — so it should come as no surprise that today’s most ambitious program in the region is also limping along.
Argentina’s 111 Mil program, launched in August 2016, was implemented by the Argentine government, in collaboration with the private sector, to develop an unprecedented 100,000 programmers, 10,000 IT professionals, and 1,000 entrepreneurs in just four years.
Almost two years since the first courses began, the program has graduated just 2,000 programmers, according to Carlos Pallotti, Former Undersecretary of the Production Ministry of Argentina.
“There were 30,000 registrants to the program last year, and 20,000 of them actually attended the courses around the country,” he explained. “Of those people, 10,000 concluded the training course and 2,000 passed the final exam to graduate, with 4,000 more on target to reach that in the next few months.”
With the programs initial goal of 25,000 graduates per year, this is slim pickings, to say the least.
The program’s successful marketing campaign clearly attracted a large amount of interest, but were they targeting the right people?
Despite this low graduation rate, Pallotti remains positive about the initiative, and has helped identify some of the areas where it can be improved.
“With this course, we wanted to target low-income workers around the country, so it was open to everyone,” he said. “One of the problems with this, especially in the larger cities, is that they often had to travel a long distance after work to attend the course, then travel a long distance back. To get around this, there are plans to provide online webinars, online training, and online mentoring, with the best professors working in this way.”
This concern was echoed by Belatrix Software, which also had advice for improving the graduation rate.
“The first year had many challenges, because anyone could apply without restriction, so many people entered the course who didn’t know anything about programming, and so didn’t find what they were looking for,” said Federico Robbio, President of Finance and Talent, and Co-Founder at Belatrix Software.
To date, Belatrix has hired just one graduate from the program, but plans to hire a few more in the next few months.
“Our first hire in Mendoza has been a success, so we are planning to hire 3-4 more in Buenos Aires — we think they could work well as QA testers,” said Robbio.
The company hired someone from a city 50 miles south of Mendoza. He was previously a dog groomer, according to Robbio.
“Mathias has been very enthusiastic, has a good attitude, and is showing good knowledge of Java programming and object oriented programming,” he said. “We assigned him to our QA department, where he is performing testing for one of our agile projects. For him, the opportunity to discuss technology and implement Java and HTML has changed his life.”
QA is a great start for anyone entering the industry, but the fact remains that there simply aren’t enough capable programmers to fill demand.
“I’m not sure that they will achieve the numbers they are targeting, but even 70% of their goal would be great for our sector – for context, there were 5,000 jobs in our industry that went unfilled last year,” said Robbio.
One company, W3 Digital Agency, went looking for fresh talent from the 111 Mil program, but walked away with nothing.
“We didn’t hire anyone because, at the time, there wasn’t a database of graduates available for companies look at,” said Carolina Rocca, HR Manager at W3. “They could improve recruitment rates by creating a complete directory of graduates, so companies can check what is available to hire.”
IT services companies in Argentina also need the program to be adjusted to create the “right” talent.
“One thing they could do is add more practical work, as the trainees need more practice in coding,” said Robbio. “Due to the target demographic, the level of English is a problem too, so we also have to provide language training when they arrive at the company.”
Internally, the program has a wide pool of available teachers spread across 700 sites, but due to the volume of applicants, they are simply over capacity, and cannot focus on individual students.
“The key to more graduates is to better prepare the teachers to provide the students with more one-to-one training,” said Pallotti. “As well as the young applicants, you also see guys of 45-50 years old, coming from a mechanical engineering or psychologist background. These groups need more than teachers; they need mentors.”
While the company was not able to comment on the number of hires it has made, or the problems with the program, Globant stressed that it was participating in its evolution, showing that there is buy-in from industry stakeholders.
“We are collaborating very hard in its implementation, both facilitating instructors and reviewing the curriculum and promoting enrollment in the cities in which we operate,” said Francisco J. Michref, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Manager at Globant.
However you frame it, Argentina took a courageous and innovative step toward solving the talent crisis, targeting people that never even dreamed of pursuing a career in IT.
If the issues of a high drop-out rate, insufficient practical work, and not enough individual student focus can be addressed this year, the 111 Mil program could produce a welcome spike in the talent pool – but nowhere near the lofty targets first championed by its architects.