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look+who_s+pumping+out+engineers - ‘evvs Global Business...

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Unformatted text preview: ‘evvs Global Business MEXICO OUT ENGINEERS The headlines are about low-wage illegals, but Mexico is swiftly upgrading its workforce BY GERI SMITH OR YEARS THE MEXICAN workforce has meant one thing to multinationals: cheap, reliable labor, perfect for assembling cars, refriger- ators, and other goods in the maquiladoras lining the bor— der with America. More complex engi- neering and design work was better done elsewhere in the global economy—usual- ly at company headquarters in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. But as maquz'la—style assembly work migrated to cheaper locales, and India and China grabbed more sophisticated design and engineering assignments, Mexican officials knew they had to do something to stay in the global race. Qui- etly and steadily, they have. Over the past 10 years, the country’s policymakers have TECHTRAINEES been building AQuerétaro uP enrollment 1n aerospace class fOUF-year .degree programs in mg- neering, develop- 42 | BusinessWeek I May 22, 2006 ing a network of technical institutes that confer two-year degrees, and expanding advanced training programs with multi- nationals from the U.S. and elsewhere. The result is a bumper crop of engi- neers. Currently, 451,000 Mexican stu- dents are enrolled in full-time under- graduate programs, vs. just over 370,000 in the US. The Mexican students benefit from high-tech equipment and materials donated to their schools by foreign com- panies, which help develop course con- tent to fit their needs. Many of these engi- neers graduate knong how to use the latest computer-assisted design (CAD) software and speaking fluent English. This expanding workforce is changing the way multinationals view the country. They can now shift more complex pro— duction to Mexico, along with higher- skilled jobs. But it goes beyond manufac- turing: Companies such as General Electric, General Motors, Honeywell, and Delphi have created large research and development centers employing hun— dreds of Mexican engineers to carry out MEXICO'S EDUCATION PUSH ‘1 LOOK wno's PUMPING ' sophisticated design modifications and handle the testing of everything from new car models to military and commercial jet engines. “In the past five years, Mexican engineers have become increasingly qualified and gained valuable experi- ence,” says Alfredo Juarez, a director at the country’s top engineering school, the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City. “We constantly have major multina- tionals here trying to recruit dozens of engineers at a time.” MEXICALI MECCA ONE IS GE, which employs 550 engineers at a tech center in the colonial city of Querétaro to help design and test jet en- gines and energy turbines. It’s one of a handful of Global Engineering Centers that the company has worldwide, includ— ing India, Poland, and Russia.) Eduardo Lemini is a GE engineer at Querétaro. He spends his days huddled over CAD displays, making design changes and performance calculau'ons, running tests on commercial and military jet engines, and working with his GE counterparts around the world. The 28- year-old holds a doctorate in engineering from the Institute of Science & Technolo- gy at the University of Manchester, Eng- land, where his research focused on com- putational fluid dynamics. Mexico’s National Council of Science & Technology footed the bill for Lemini’s studies abroad. Says Lemini, who was immedi- ately hired by GE when he returned home: “This is a great time to be an engi— neer in Mexico.” And a great time to employ one. Com- panies are creating or expanding research and development and testing centers from Mexico City to Mexicali. The young ) PHOTOGRAPH BY KEITH DANNEMILLER; CHART BY ERIC HOFFMANN/BW ‘2‘ .4 U KEITH DANNEMILLER engineers being hired are capable, and they’re a bargain, earning on average one-third what their U.S. counterparts do. A newly minted engineer earns around $15,000 a year, and those with experience take home $25,000 to $35,000. Vladimiro de la Mora, director of GE’s R&D center in Querétaro, figures he’ll hire 200 new engineers this year, as GE’s Avi- ation and Energy divisions throw more work his way: “We’re growing because Mexico’s technical expertise is deepening, but also because it costs us 30% to 40% less to do the work here than in the US.” The global aerospace industry is the latest to seek out Mexican expertise. Honeywell Aerospace recently broke ground on a $40 million systems integra- tion and testing laboratory in Mexicali, along the border with Arizona. It will em- ploy 300 Mexican engineers and run sim— ulations for aircraft systems developed by Honeywell worldwide. Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier Inc, meanwhile, is re— locating all electrical wire harness work for its planes to Querétaro from Montreal, Toronto, and Wichita, and shifting fuse- lage assembly to Mexico from Belfast. If all goes according to plan, the Canadian company will be assembling entire air- craft in Mexico in 7 to 10 years. To win GE is sending the Bombardier in- vestment, Mexico more even pledged to build a new aero- Com 16X space university nearby. “We’re 1m- WOI‘ . t0 pressed by the gov— MCXlCO ernment’s commit- — manta” says Réal Gervais, a Bom- bardier vice-presi- dent who heads the Mexico operations. A success story? Yes, but one with some caveats. As promising as the future is, Mexico’s engineering schools may be a few years ahead of the counti'fs indus- trial development curve, churning out too many professionals for current de- mand. While multinationals are taking the cream of the crop, the rest of Mexi- co’s engineers must compete against less educated but experienced, lower-cost technicians for a limited number of su- pervisory positions. Mexico has been ed- ucating these technicians in record numbers as well. Electrical engineer Jorge Perez, 42, knows what this competition is like. Perez worked for Siemens’ medical equipment group for 12 years. He just completed Bombardiei’s training course and hopes to work as a supervisor in the wire harness factory, a task for which he is probably overqualified. “An engineer— ing degree doesn’t guarantee you a job in Mexico, even today,” says Perez. “I know a lot of underemployed engineers.” Mexican officials hope that as more multinationals get hooked on the ex- pertise of local technicians and engi- neers, they will keep sending more so- phisticated work to Mexico, providing plenty of quality jobs for everyone and moving the country further up the lad- der of development. The youngest Mexican engineers fer— vently believe this will happen. Twenty- three-year—old Mayra Ponce holds an un- dergraduate degree in aeronautics engineering from National Polytechnic. She is about to wrap up a 12-week inten- sive training course that will put her first in line for an engineer’s job assembling aircraft fuselages for Bombardier. “I see this as a great opportunity to start at the bottom and learn how airplanes are made,” she says. Her goal: design air- craft someday, even though Bombardier has not announced plans to do such work in Mexico. A lofty aspiration, but also a sign that Mexico is still in the global race for the best jobs. II May 22. 2006 | BusinessWeek l 43 ...
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