Engineering in Argentina: economic transformation leads to new projects and opportunities
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We take a look at the opportunities for engineers in Argentina: what skills employers are looking for and what kinds of engineering projects are planned or currently underway.
In terms of area (2,780 400km2), Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and 32nd in terms of population with around 44 million people. Just over 90 per cent of the population lives in an urban area according to the World Bank’s 2015 figures. After several years of low growth, Argentina emerged from recession last year. Bloomberg reported that “the incipient” recovery in production showed the first signs that President Mauricio Macri’s policies are gaining traction. Its latest gross domestic product figure of $550 billion makes it one of the largest economies in Latin America.
The World Bank reports that the country is currently undergoing an economic transformation that promotes sustainable economic development “with social inclusion and integration” into the global economy. Next year will see the country take its place on the world stage as host to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the first South American country to do so.
Infrastructure improvements are very much on President Macri’s agenda. Siemens is among the big names involved in projects and last September it signed a letter of intent with the government to cooperate closely in the future and develop solutions in the fields of energy, transport and intelligent cities.
The aim is to improve the efficiency, reliability and operation of the power generation network, support modernisation of the railway transport infrastructure (electrification, signalling, communications and rolling stock) and implement smart grid and intelligent traffic systems. Siemens claims it will create up to 3,000 direct and 7,000 indirect jobs.
Renewables and energy efficiency is another focus for the country. Rik Teeuwen, project manager at Solarplaza, which helps renewable energy professionals in their business development, says natural resources such as irradiation help to give it a head start but also points to the “much praised” RenovAr scheme in which the government buys wind, solar and other forms of renewables at an auction.
“The new government and a sub-secretariat of renewable energy came in with a clear timeline in mind to reach 10GW of renewable energy capacity by 2025 and a concise legal framework the country is set for growth,” he explains. “Macri’s government established a framework that drew in lots of attention and bids. It saw a quite impressive over-subscription and aggressive bids, that will provide cost competitive new generation in Argentina.”
He says that solar in particular is playing a key part in the country’s economic recovery. “What solar does is bring new business opportunities for Argentinian companies and entrepreneurs. Currently, that might prove to be its main benefit in the greater scale of the economy.”
It isn’t just about renewable energy though. Siemens also recently won an order for four industrial power plants with twelve gas turbines with a combined capacity of nearly 690 megawatts while, in June last year, the governments of Argentina and China signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of two nuclear power plants in the country. The project is worth $15 billion and is part of the Argentine government’s efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in nuclear power generation.
The construction sector has been weak through the recession and is expected to remain subdued but market research company ReportLinker reckons “a gradual improvement” in regional economic conditions is expected to support the industry in the following years, with improving business confidence and subsequent public and private sector investments in construction projects. It adds that Timetric’s Construction in Argentina Key Trends and Opportunities to 2020 report also highlights a government housing initiative to the low and middle-class population that is expected to boost construction activity in the residential market, while, in a bid to boost the passenger handling capacity of 19 airports across the country, the ministry of transport announced plans to invest US$2.0 billion to upgrade airport infrastructure.
Going forward, Argentina can also claim to have one of the biggest global tunnelling projects of the next decade. Over 11km in length, the Paso Las Leñas tunnel will connect Argentina with Chile through the Andes. WorldHighways.com reports that construction work is expected to start in 2019 and is likely to take nine years to complete.
The number of infrastructure and construction and engineering projects scheduled over the next five years and more means engineers across several disciplines will be in demand. María Abeal, senior consultant for recruitment firm Michael Page Engineering in Argentina, says the sector has been growing for several years.
“The current unemployment rate is just under 10 per cent in Argentina but fortunately, we haven’t found that this affects engineering,” she says. “On the contrary, we’ve seen full employment for at least 10 years, proving that it is a sector with a high demand of qualified professionals.”
She adds that, overall, most vacancies are filled with Argentinian professionals but recent years has seen a considerable rise in immigration of professionals from countries such as Colombia and Venezuela. Following the signing of the agreement with the government, Siemens said it is committed to training Argentinians in engineering-related disciplines as well as creating training opportunities for young people for jobs that require digital know-how.
While there is a commitment to homegrown talent, there are opportunities for overseas engineers. Abeal says that, nowadays, the Argentinean engineering industry seeks professionals with the ability to understand business, as well as manage budgets and projects and that mastering another language, especially English, is also a fundamental because of the daily interactions required with affiliates or clients from different parts of the world. She adds: “Exposure to multicultural environments is highly valued by our clients. Argentina attracts professionals with the ability to adapt easily to change, due to the variable characteristics of its economy.
“Among the professionals who enter the Argentinian job market, many of them are engineers who wish to find new opportunities in our country. Argentina is changing, and although the current recession affects some sectors more than others, this environment generates opportunities in sectors such as renewable energy, oil and gas, and technical products and services.