Spanish society reproaches the University for not adjusting its offer to the needs of the company, but can teaching be so close to reality? “The technology we use today is not the one we will use in a year and a half, so the training cycle is almost constant,” summarizes the engineer Iñaki Ugarte, general director of the subsidiary that coordinates the nine Amazon logistics centers in Spain, while teaching this newspaper that of Illescas (Toledo).
According to the barometer of the Fundación Conocimiento y Desarrollo (FCyD), made up of large companies, 48% of Spaniards believe that there is an imbalance with the needs of the market and 39% consider that the time and cost of studying a career. While 53% of young Spaniards are concerned in the report why we study have chosen a training itinerary that in the future can be replaced by technology. Technological changes are so fast-paced that it doesn’t seem like the curricula will ever be up to date. The recycling courses of less than 150 hours that universities are going to offer ―known as microcredentials― or a visit to an Amazon logistics center illustrate how the landscape of continuous training in Spain is changing inexorably.
According to an OECD estimate, between 2016 and 2030, 1.6 million jobs replaced by technology will be lost in Spain, but another 2.3 million will be created, with a net balance of 672,000 more jobs. There will be a surplus of accountants, auditors, payroll technicians and financial analysts, and there will be a lack of specialists in the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and electronic commerce.
“Our great challenge in Spain is to train or requalify workers for new positions. I am convinced that robots are not going to replace people, nor artificial intelligence. We will have to do other things”, reflects Iñaqui López, professor of business organization at the Complutense University, present at the visit to the Toledo plant. “The University, as Minister Subirats says, will no longer serve only for 18-year-olds to take a degree, but for employees to requalify. There is evidence that the most competitive countries, with the highest industrial development index and the greatest presence of robots in the industry, are the ones that will grow the most”.
“It is seen that Amazon is automating many positions and is creating others that do not require excessive qualification and that form them. People are needed in the positions where the robots do not make the movements”, continues Professor López. “You do not have to be afraid. The Industrial Revolution with the loom and the steam engine caused harsher changes that affected the entire social structure.
Amazon, which arrived in Spain a little over a decade ago, does not find all the profiles it needs and is in charge of training from the beginning or recycling those who already have a proven track record. “We are looking for people who do not yet have professional experience, but do have a way of seeing things, of seeing life and facing problems that we like. We have, for example, the Apprenticeship program, which profiles the environment of mechanics, mechatronics (industrial maintenance) and robotics, which are the markets where there is the greatest competition for talent”, explains Ugarte.
Lucía Galve, 24, has now finished her apprenticeship and will return to Zaragoza, her city, with a permanent contract at Amazon, where she graduated in Automatic Electronic Engineering. The University of Seville suggested that she make the master’s degree she was going to take in this field compatible with a paid internship at Amazon. She was attracted to the idea and submitted to the selection process. The company chose two engineers from all over Spain who, during the first year of the master’s degree, spent half a day at one of its headquarters and a half at the faculty, and the second year all the time at the company.
“In addition, there is other external training, which is combined with everything we have already studied in the master’s degree and in the degree,” Galve explains by phone, who has had to travel to Madrid and Barcelona for a few weeks to complete his preparation. “Apprenticeship allows us to capture diversity in the range of ages, ways of seeing life and also gender diversity. Now 40% of women are dating. In the field of mechanics, mechatronics and robotics, it is an abysmal change”, congratulates Ugarte, who also joined the company with a plan aimed at MBA graduates. Amazon Spain has 22,000 permanent employees and they intend to reach 25,000 in 2025.
Galve recognizes that the University will never be able to provide such specialized training. “There are so many programming languages available on the market that it’s impossible for them to teach you all of them,” he reasons. 200 students started the race, 30 finished it and he estimates that only five or six were women. “A professor in Zaragoza told us that in the degree they didn’t teach us what we had to know to work, but to learn easily what would help us to work. He marked me ”. In the long run, Lucía Galve would like to change her position within Amazon, which promotes her, and even move to another city. “The more you move, the more you learn,” she says. The engineer could take advantage of Career Choice, another program that, according to the company, “provides employees with the tools they need to achieve their professional aspirations inside or outside the company.” Currently, 50,000 workers in 14 countries benefit. The program covers 95% of tuition and book costs.
At the Illescas plant there are more male workers than female workers, but the difference is not striking and in the management leadership many women occupy the highest positions. The company forces it to be so. “We as a society are diverse and we believe that you will be closer to the client the more diverse you are as a company. Services change at a very fast pace and the way to evolve is by working within that diversity”, reasons Ugarte.
But diversity is not achieved in all sectors and Amazon is concerned. “In logistics there are 22% women and in mechanics and automation below 10%. There is a glass ceiling that, if one tries to break in the traditional way, is not achieved, because it is a whiting that bites its tail. If you are looking for a profile with that experience, it is predominantly male,” Ugarte acknowledges.
In the robotics maintenance workshop in Illescas ―which looks like Formula 1― the first technicians were trained in Seville for two months. Now, with their experience in robotics established, they train newcomers: one week of theory and at least one week of practice, and then an exam certifies their knowledge. Each machine has specific training for each profile, so the number of programs is incalculable.
“In Spain we train very well, especially engineers. Since Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States… are going to need these profiles, we are not going to be able to train so many people in such a short time,” says Iñaqui López. “And that can create a major problem: that our talent goes abroad.”
“The Spanish training system structures the mind very well, which is why we send a lot of talent abroad,” Ugarte acknowledges. “People are very capable of adapting,” he continues. “But I think there is a must: adapt the education system to the new training needs. It is not good at teaching to communicate the development of soft skills (analysis capacity, organization, conflict resolution or teamwork); and it is very important in a changing environment, where today’s jobs are different from yesterday’s and will be different from tomorrow’s”. Some soft skills that, like diversity, Amazon does not forget either and are the subject of training programs on-line. They do not rest.
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