In the last quarter of a century, training in Mexico has evolved rapidly, and continues to offer challenges and opportunities.
By Ismael Cantú de la Torre and Liliana Cantú Licón
As one of the leading Latin American economies (along with Brazil), and the country with the highest number of international free trade agreements, Mexico has experienced big changes regarding training in the last 25 years.
Back in the 1970s, with a closed economy and scarce competition, Mexican companies didn't put much effort or interest into developing their employees. Promotions were unusual, and they often were based on networks or relationships rather than on performance. Up until then, the usual way for a new employee to learn his/her job was the "apprenticeship system." In other words, he/she was assigned to a mentor (usually an older worker with no idea of how to transmit knowledge), and then tried to "catch what he/she could." Another popular method was that of "Throw him into the water; if he can swim, he'll survive. If not…"
This situation started to change in 1978, when Mexican President José Lopez Portillo, being aware of the need to increase the level of manufacturing productivity in the country, approved several additions to the Mexican labor legislation. These additions, known as the "Training Law," established the obligation for every Mexican employer to provide adequate and formal training to every one of its workers. The new law established regulations for training needs analysis, annual training plans, instructors' certification, training records, etc. The law also established fines for non-compliance.
With the explosive growth of industry during the 1990s, due in large part to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the need for professional labor became a must. Large numbers of Mexican plants started on the road to ISO certification, looking for international recognition. This ignited a new demand for specialized training. The increase in foreign investment in Mexico also triggered other types of training, such as cross-cultural programs and high-level management training.
At that point, an important cultural issue became evident: the lack of an objective mind-set in the Mexican trainee that prevented the clear understanding of goals, written instructions, and logical thinking. The reason for this, according to author Eva S. Kras, was the tendency in the basic Mexican education system to focus on a universal approach, oriented toward acquiring knowledge and general culture concepts rather than developing skills such as oral expression, written expression, or reading comprehension. Usually, any Mexican fifth-grader will be able to tell you by heart the capital of any country of the world, but will struggle to find the main idea of a written lesson.
The solution to this situation was found in another Mexican cultural trait: the need for structure. For this reason, formal courses on objective thinking, techniques for writing reports and procedures, structured problem-solving methods, etc., became a good solution.
By 2000, after completion of this training effort, the change in the way most Mexican workers performed their jobs was evident. Large numbers of Mexican plants started being recognized as world leaders in quality and productivity, and Mexican manufacturing sites obtained international awards.
During 2007, market pressures and international competition (China and India) demanded higher productivity increases. Training on Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen, and other techniques was in high demand, with the goal of having an environment of high quality, zero defects, and reduced costs.
In 2009, the training scene faces extreme budget constraints due to international financial struggles. For this reason, companies are reducing training expenditures significantly, switching to internal instructor-based training.
Globalization also brings another trend to the Mexican training scene: that of multinational corporate training programs that need to be adapted and delivered in the Mexican sites of these companies. This has spawned a significant demand for bilingual/ bicultural instructors who have the credentials and expertise needed for this kind of challenge.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Training Magazine. Ismael Cantú de la Torre is general director and founder of TAC, a Mexican training and consulting firm. Liliana Cantú Licón is general manager and founder of IC México, a Mexican intercultural training firm. They are both associates of ITAP International Inc.