Decoding the Digital Skills Gap in Latin America

According to the International Labour Organization, nearly half of women in Latin America are not part of the labour force. Fortunately, we are seeing the birth of programmes dedicated to bringing skilled women into STEM fields.

South America has a daunting skills gap. According to OECD, an average of one-fifth of young Latin Americans, or roughly 30 million people are not employed or engaged in any form of education or training (NEET). This value itself is an average between two surveyed demographics – 30% of women fell under this category compared to the 11% of men reported.

 

And equally concerning – nearly half of women in Latin America are not part of the labour force compared with over 79% of men that are. However, it’s not like there is a lack of demand. For example, just considering IT Networking Jobs in Latam, IDC predicted that by the end of last year there would be an estimated shortage of around half a million professionals in the market

 

Fortunately, we are seeing the birth of programmes dedicated to decreasing the deficit of skilled STEM workers and women are at the forefront. Two programs are leading the way here in Chile: Laboratoria, a successful programme has trained over 7,000 women in web development and UX design across the continent and Kodea, who is fostering opportunities for women, and people with limited access to education, by creating and developing programs that teach new skills in computer science and IT.

From these organisations, BCG Platinion identified three promising students and offered them internships with a responsibility to add tangible value to our company and our clients’ digital transformations, whilst developing their technical skills in programming.

 

These students joined our inaugural programme, CO:DE, which is a social impact initiative set up by BCG Platinion in SSA (Spanish South America). It’s objective – to help foster the inclusion of women in technology, and promote social mobility. The outcome – a pilot programme that can fast track the development of digital skills to prepare women for a career in technology.

Phase I: Getting ready to CO:DE!

Whilst the end goal would expose our new colleagues to a live project, the first phase introduced them to the framework and language of common technology stacks, our Agile way of working and owning workstreams.

Phase II: Solving a green challenge

But this was not going to be any kind of classroom exercise! We purposefully built the programme to ensure that everything they learnt in IT architecture, Agile development and design would address a real-world challenge. In this case, how we could efficiently reduce the carbon footprint, not just for BCG’s office in Santiago but for all the companies who reside in the three tower complex with us.

 

Despite the country’s government committing to improve recycling infrastructure tenfold, in offices around the capital there is only the provision to recycle cans, cardboard and paper. Not glass or plastic. Bearing in mind the commitment of companies, particularly international companies, to offset carbon emissions, the challenge is exacerbated by a lack of data.

 

So the goal of the first project was to encourage wider recycling in the business park by creating awareness of the impact tenants are having on the local environment, for better or worse.

 

The team’s solution was to design and build a platform that could help the tower’s administration log waste data from multiple companies, generate automated reports for each tenant and provide plugin dashboards that would track their progress and measure carbon offsetting.

What started as an internal initiative has now become the stepping stone to improve the business park’s approach to waste management

With this kind of data at our disposal, BCG has now started designing initiatives and measuring the impact of our own efforts. Meanwhile the project has dramatically reduced the operational burden on janitors who no longer need to manually input data and create spreadsheets for each company obliged to report on their recycling efforts.

 

What started as an internal initiative, designed to generate awareness, has now become the stepping stone to improve the business park’s approach to waste management. And the scalability of this initiative is so high that future software iterations will allow us to gamify the programme amongst tenants!

Phase III: Building a bot for one of the largest retailers in the world

With a base understanding of app development, the second phase of the programme focused on a project to enhance the customer experience for the Chilean operation of one of the largest retailers in the world.

 

The challenge was no easy task; building a virtual assistant with the potential of serving 50,000 employees and collaborators using the latest in natural language processing technologies and cloud architecture…in only 8 weeks!

 

The result was a functional chatbot with the technology and team able to adapt the digital asset for any new demands remotely and securely, which has been valuable in light of the current world health crisis.

Naturally, it was not without hurdles. In terms of ownership, whilst we helped set the foundation, our client needed a solution that could evolve to add more use cases once handed over.

The team also had to ensure the chatbot could overcome technical restraints, was user friendly but built with relatively low complexity.

 

The results were way beyond our expectations. The client has made the product an important asset in its digital transformation towards a more automated and operationally efficient way of working. And they have adopted our recommendations to assign a team dedicated to growing the product. We are also in conversations with them to direct the next iteration of the chatbot with a more strategic and business driven purpose.

With a DDP approach, innovation teams can experiment with start-up technologies in multiple composable sub-systems over time, exposing key pockets of value.

But most importantly, the client has helped us prove that social impact initiatives, especially those that encourage women into technology, regardless of experience, can result creative and innovative ideas that have real-world benefits.

 

Again, with a DDP approach, innovation teams can experiment with start-up technologies in multiple composable sub-systems over time, exposing key pockets of value. This approach drives innovation, while portfolios of start-up technologies can be arranged in sub-systems to create new offers, services, and business models, staving off disruption.

Conclusion

As for our first cohort – they were able to prove the impact hard work, diversity and trust can have on digital disruption and new ways of working. Having graduated from our CO:DE academy, they are now actively looking for junior positions in software development, UX and product design.

 

We sincerely hope this experience will encourage organisations and industries to guarantee that innovation and progress happens in the right way. And inspire other women to find their voice in STEM and shrink the gender skills gap in Latin America.

Julian Herman

Managing Director
Santiago