News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba’s Highly Trained Workforce Beckons Foreign Investors

Cuba’s Highly Trained Workforce Beckons Foreign Investors
By Anatoly Kurmanaev, Eric Martin, and Sabrina Valle January 08, 2015

Alfonso Morre spent nine years studying applied mechanics and civil
engineering. That training has come in handy in his job driving a taxi
in Havana. Morre spends his days ferrying tourists around in a
26-year-old Russian-made Lada—and his spare time repairing the damage
done to it by the city’s cobbled streets. He hopes Obama’s
recent decision to loosen restrictions on banking, , and trade
with Cuba will create opportunities for the tens of thousands of
-educated Cubans like him trapped in low-skill jobs. “Once the
U.S. trade opens up, companies will come here looking for engineers,”
says Morre, 33. “Once the new cars and spare parts start coming in, you
won’t need to be an engineer to run a taxi here.”

The Caribbean nation of 11.3 million has the best-educated workforce in
Latin America—a distinction that may prove to be the Cuban Revolution’s
most lasting legacy. In the early 1960s, and his barbudos
(bearded ones) dispatched brigades of teachers and college students to
the countryside with orders to eradicate illiteracy, which at the time
exceeded 50 percent of the population. The communist regime also
established educational exchanges with Soviet republics. About 100,000
Cubans have attended Russian and Ukrainian universities. Eighty percent
of college-age Cubans were enrolled in postsecondary in 2011,
compared with 75 percent in Argentina, 71 percent in , and 29
percent in Mexico, according to the United Nations. (In the U.S. it was
95 percent.)

Cuban-born residents of the U.S. earn 20 percent more on average than
the country’s Hispanic population overall, and they’re more likely to
own their home, according to an analysis of 2011 Census data by the Pew
Research Center. About 2 million Hispanics of Cuban descent live in the U.S.

An emphasis on hard sciences such as medicine and engineering helped the
country weather the end of Soviet subsidies in the ’90s. Havana has sent
30,000 doctors to under a barter arrangement that has the
South American country supply Cuba with about 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

The skilled labor pool will be a big draw for companies looking for
opportunities on the island should the U.S. agree to end the
half-century-old trade , says Philip Brenner, a professor of
international relations at American University in Washington. “The Cuban
development model is going to be based on high-value-added production,”
he says. “No one in Cuba is talking about a future scenario of making
baseballs in sweatshops. They have people who would be adept in
pharmaceuticals, computer engineering, and advanced mechanical machinery.”

On Dec. 17, Obama announced plans to reestablish diplomatic ties with
Cuba and ease restrictions on travel to the island and some commercial
activities, such as sales of telecommunications equipment. Jodi Bond,
vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says
U.S. companies will likely step up lobbying Congress to formally lift
the embargo. “There’s potential for explosive growth,” Bond says, citing
, technology, and telecommunications as industries with some of
the best investment prospects. “Much of that may move slowly, but the
companies see a lot of promise.”

Brazilian contractor Hélio Piza oversees 60 workers at a state-owned
sugar-processing plant in Cuba’s Cienfuegos province. On a late December
afternoon, workers at the 30-year-old mill were welding together
handmade parts for the sugar cane grinders. “The level of academic
preparation here is very high,” Piza says. “Education allows Cubans to
be ingenious with the little they have available.” His biggest challenge
is recruiting young people willing to work for a state salary of about
$20 a month—less than they’d earn working at paladares, private
restaurants catering to tourists, or taking visitors on fishing
excursions. “It’s difficult to motivate workers to be productive on the
kind of money we can offer,” Piza says.

At Brascuba, a cigarette- and cigar-making venture of state-owned
Tabacuba and Souza Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of British American
Tobacco, 46 percent of the largely local workforce of 500 has a college
degree. “The Cuban workforce is a key point for investment in the
country,” says Alexandre Carpenter, Brascuba’s Brazilian co-president.
“When you’re installing a new machine, for example, you have high-level
discussions with the engineers. They are much more prepared than the
average Brazilian worker.”

Lucila Gomez earned a degree at Moscow State Textile University and
worked in Bulgaria before returning to Cuba. Today she makes a living
ironing shirts at the Tryp Habana. She hopes the recent thaw in
U.S.-Cuba relations will lead to the reopening of the pajama factory she
once supervised in the capital. Says Gomez, 65: “Hopefully, I won’t have
to end my career doing laundry.”

Source: Cuba’s Skilled Workers Likely to Lure Investors – Businessweek –

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