W hen Oswaldo Garcia saved up for his first computer last year, he saw a chance to swap his dead-end job working nights at a kiosk in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires for a better career.
He is among a growing number of young people signing up for free coding and IT classes which aim to train them up to fill well-paid vacancies in the country’s vibrant tech industry.
“It was pretty much a leap of faith for me … I didn’t have any kind of technology background before,” said Garcia, 22, who fits coding and graphic design classes around shifts at the kiosk and plans to start job-hunting soon.
“In technology, you can earn a decent salary. Learning about these trades in the digital world helped me find my vocation.”
Argentina’s tech sector has thrived even as the country struggles with an extended economic crisis.
It has produced global firms including e-commerce giant Mercado Libre and software developer Globant, and has also become a hub for outsourcing.
The government and non-profits are offering free training to poor youth that can quickly equip them with sought-after skills in an economy that has been beset by crises, loan defaults and rampant inflation for decades.
According to official data released last month, about 40% of Argentines live below the poverty line, while annual inflation that tipped over 100% this year is eating into purchase power.
An entry-level job in the South American country’s tech industry can pay twice the minimum wage of 80,342 pesos ($375) a month, according to IT education charities.
“Right off the bat, they often become the highest earner in the family,” said Federico Waisbaum, director of Puerta 18, a non-profit offering free classes in Buenos Aires to young people aged between 13 and 24.
Its courses include 3D printing, programming, and graphic design. About 90% of those who complete their studies – typically lasting two or three months – and take part in a work placement scheme get a job in the industry, Waisbaum said.
COURSES AIM TO FILL IT SKILLS GAP
Global IT spending is set to grow by 4.4% in 2023, according to market intelligence firm the International Data Corporation, even as many firms are hit by economic uncertainty and Big Tech stock losses that have seen thousands of workers laid off.
In Argentina, skills gaps mean about 15,000 jobs in the fast-growing sector go unfilled each year, according to the Chamber of the Argentine Software Industry, an industry group.
At the same time, the economic crisis has fueled the loss of talent to companies overseas.
The tech industry subsidizes IT education and intensive courses to help develop new talent.
“There are many very well-paid digital trades that do not necessarily need high seniority and are currently vacant,” said Juan Jose Bertamoni, director of Potrero Digital, a non-profit which offers free three-month online courses.
In November, the government launched a large-scale tech education initiative, Argentina Programa 4.0, providing free training in coding languages, testing and digital skills, along with work placements in software companies.
“This program will allow us to have 70,000 new programmers in the country by the end of the year,” Ariel Sujarchuk, then head of the government’s knowledge economy office, said in comments quoted by the Telam news agency.
“This is the necessary bedrock for us to be leaders (in the sector) in future.”
So far, 340,000 students have applied, and about 210,000 have taken up places on courses, a spokesperson for the program told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
BARRIERS TO EQUAL TECH ACCESS
There are constraints in advancing coding education in working-class populations, many of whom lack high-quality internet connections or computers.
“In these communities, the only previous link to technology is often a mobile phone,” said Eugenia Cortona, who heads the Lifelong Learning Agency at Buenos Aires’ city government.
“Sometimes a job in tech does not occur to them as a real possibility.”
The city government has opened a training center in Barrio 31, a poor and densely populated central district, which focuses on building job-oriented skills such as coding, data analytics and software testing.
To help overcome barriers to accessing tech and training, many course providers offer students free equipment, or a place to come to work on their assignments.
The city government’s center offers classes both online and in-person, with Cortona saying the “vast majority” of those who come to the lab do so because they lack access to a computer at home.
Puerta 18 sticks to an in-person course so that everybody can access the hardware, while Potrero Digital sends notebook laptops to its students to complete their training remotely.
Offering access to tech can swiftly transform students’ career prospects, said Bertamoni of Potrero Digital.
“It is a huge opportunity for people in a disadvantaged situation, who often have little social integration and who have left the formal education system,” he added.
Noelia Quispe, 24, said the free classes she took at Puerta 18 enabled her to land a tech job, working on the website of a drugstore chain.
“I heard programming was a good job opportunity (but) there wasn’t really anyone to guide me in my family,” said Quispe, 24, whose parents are textile industry workers.
“I do not know where I would have learned these skills if I hadn’t come here. I might never have realized that technology was even a possibility for me.” Reuters