The first morning I spent in Buenos Aires early last week started with a revealing opening act: I was shuttled from my hotel over to the Ministerio De Producción in the downtown district of Monserrat, and escorted into the office of Carlos Pallotti, undersecretary in the Production Ministry and the chief architect of Argentina’s far-reaching IT rebirth. Within moments of getting reacquainted with Carlos, he had me sit down and meet his team.
So quickly did we dive in, that coffee was an after-thought.
As the eight professionals made their introductions, I become increasingly awed by the level of depth and specialization of each of them. Private sector experience was a common denominator. Equally apparent was the seriousness at which they are focused on the tasks in front of them – the sense of urgency was constant. The IT sector of Argentina is not only in transformation mode, the government in particular is in a hurry to show results – big results.
What’s also noteworthy is that in our nearly ten years of reporting on the Nearshore services market, we have never before observed a country that has assembled such a well-qualified and diverse set of government professionals – all working together to accelerate knowledge services and advocate on behalf of IT’s core mission.
These are professionals who are well aware of the intricacies of cultivating IT labor pools. They are coordinating the ongoing development of nearly a dozen IT clusters scattered around the country, providing mentoring and legal support for IT entrepreneurs, advising on the multi-dimensional impacts of the IT business on Argentina’s economy, gathering data that charts virtually every facet of domestic and exported global services, sorting out and clarifying the various incentives the government offers IT companies, and cultivating vital links with Argentina-borne IT companies as well as the many international consultancies and sector-specific operators doing work in the country.
Also vital to the group’s mission are strategies to boost female participation in the IT sector, and lobbying policymakers to ease burdens – such as eliminating double-taxation practices – between trading partners.
The team-members include:
- Romina Gayá, Director of the Knowledge Economy Observatory
- Delfina Tuckey, Promotional Regimes Coordinator
- Gustavo Svarzman, National Director of Planning and Monitoring
- Marcelo Marzocchini, a senior advisor and economist in the Ministry of Production
- Daniel Colinas, National Director of Technology and Productive Services
- Guillermo Mendoza, PMO Investment Agency, Argentina
- Mercedes Velazquez, Adviser of Sub secretariat of Technology and Productive Services
- Liliana Clement, Director of Promotion Schemes
- Mariano Mayer, Secretary for SMEs and Entrepreneurs
Now the shocker: Virtually all of the positions on Carlos’s team are new positions. They were created when President Mauricio Macri took office in late 2015. Carlos, an IT entrepreneur with a 30-plus year track record who has been deeply involved in the well-established IT chamber, CESSI, joined a large number of other private-sector professionals in signing on to work for Macri.
Why such a rush?
The clock is ticking for Macri and the aggressive set of reforms he’s introduced to battle 25% – plus annual inflation, double-digit unemployment, trim back the social safety nets running rampant under the previous administration, and repair a deep fiscal hole he inherited when taking office.
Even so, there are doubts about whether Macri is taking on too much, too fast – turning away from the entrenched populism of the country and calling on citizens to embrace the ethos of his “Cambiemos” (Let’s Change) political party. There’s a teachers’ strike that has been going for several weeks, and parts of Buenos Aires are gridlocked by thousands-strong demonstrations. Welcome to Argentina – land of the outspoken!
New Economy Realities
Some of this unrest stems from an angst that workers around the world are experiencing. Traditional manufacturing jobs are declining, and the new economy is calling for job candidates with more specialized, knowledge-driven skills. The chasm between those riding the technology-enabled boom and those left behind is growing. The low-skilled worker is anxious and impatient, and those emotions are alive and visible in the streets of Buenos Aires.
That’s where Carlos and his specialists fit in. The goal of training over 111,000 programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs over the next three-plus years is the cornerstone of the new agenda created by the dream team. The training is performed at more than 800 institutes across the country, mainly pre-existing technical schools, training centers and universities. Teaching staff is composed of secondary and university professors, as well as industry professionals provided by clusters and companies throughout the country.
What’s especially unique is the fact that over 200 top IT firms operating in Argentina affirmed both the mission of the program, and also formally agreed to hire students upon completion.
“The software and IT services industry has enthusiastically received this initiative and has been actively involved in its promotion and implementation. This includes both entrepreneurs or small and medium-sized companies in the interior of the country and large companies,” said Marcelo Marzocchini, one of the dream team members. “Our aim is for all graduates to find work in the sector, whether in existing companies or in through new investments looking for establishing operations in our country.”
Palotti estimates about 70% of the jobs these folks take are related to exported, outsourced IT services. “We want these people to find new opportunities, using new skills and talents that didn’t think they could develop” he said.
The orchestration of ‘re-tooling’ workers seems to be working, but is that enough to ease the angst of the working class?
I asked a related question when I presented to a group of over 200 IT entrepreneurs and cluster leaders at the “POLO IT event” in La Plata, about 75 minutes south of Buenos Aires, and a tech-hub in its own right. Do people expect Argentina to continue to follow a path of extreme pendulum swings, moving from bust to boom and poor to rich, and to poor again? Or, will Macri be able to stabilize Argentina and make it a steadier, more predictable partner?
When you ask most Argentines this question, they seem to suspect that those rounds of classic economic turbulence are inevitable – and they well may be, because it’s what the country has experienced going back for at least the last 70 years.
But this time may be different. And that’s why Carlos and his team are in such a hurry. They know the window won’t be open for very long, that the chance to make a profound impact is fleeting.
Because the stakes are high, there seems to be little room for Argentina to reflect on the fact that its stock is rising fast in the Nearshore ICT sector. The burst of new-found energy brought on by the new administration and the 180-degree change in the way the government interacts with services’ companies and entrepreneurs is fueling a powerful buzz.
From superstar companies like Globant and MercadoLibre, to venerable hub cities like Cordoba, Rosario and Mendoza, to the thousands of smaller software entrepreneurs – virtually all these voices are singing from the same song-book. They see better days ahead and don’t want to squander this special moment.
They’ll always be time for coffee. Right now, it’s about getting the job done.