Artículos en Inglés
Giovanni Berti – Executive Director of PROESA
What does PROESA do? In what does it specialize?
PROESA is a public agency, linked to El Salvador’s presidency, that specifically has two main purposes. The first one is to help small and midsized Salvadoran companies so they can incorporate their products in the international market. Its second purpose has to do with promoting El Salvador with the goal of having international companies establish their businesses in the country.
What about the public-private partnerships?
In the last year or year and a half we have contributed, with the government’s instructions, in the process of promoting, discussing and approving the Public-Private Partnerships Law with the understanding that the law proposal that was originally sent to Congress supported that PROESA should become the governing body for this new modality of investment. However, the Congress made modifications to the proposal and has transferred it to another institution, so from now on we would not have any kind of influence in the subject of public-private partnerships. So now we are fundamentally dedicated to promoting commerce and bringing in direct foreign investment.
What are your achievements?
In the area of external commerce, we have been supporting an average of 300 and 400 companies a year, under different modalities and according to the records that each company gives to us. One of the achievements that I like pointing out is that in average, the companies that are served by PROESA export between 8 and 10 percent more than those companies that are not served by us.
The levels of exportation are your indicators of success?
It is very hard to attribute all the companies’ achievements to our success, but somehow that is an indicator that allows us to evaluate the impact that we are having. We basically work with three types of companies: Those who have never exported and want to do it for the first time; for them we have a special mode of attention because they need more assistance, more information, and more training.
The second group of companies that we work with are those that already export their products and have been doing it consistently in the last couple of years, but are interested in diversifying their markets by selling their products or services in places they haven’t been before. For them we have a more specialized kind of assistance.
Finally, for this year in particular we are working with a third group, which are food and beverages companies that export to the United States. Starting from what the United States government imposes for the access of food into their market, these companies need support to ensure that what they already export can continue to be exported as of January 2014, which will be the start of the validity of the new FDA rule.
How are we in terms of foreign investment?
In the case of investment, after having a very rough year in 2009-2010, where direct foreign investment, according to the national bank’s numbers, did not go over $150 million, we have seen a significant recovery. Just last year we went past $850 million. The data is still being revised by the national bank, but in any case the figure is quite accurate. This shows a growing tendency, although we have to recognize that it is still low in relation to what the country needs for foreign investment to effectively generate growth. But we have had years showing a tendency of growth and we expect this tendency to strengthen in the coming years.
You have launched an English program for young people. In what does it consist?
This program comes from a demand within various companies representing different sectors in the country. Throughout various ways they have come come to us to express that one of the main difficulties they had to ensure their expansion projects or new investments was that they were not finding professionals with the ability to speak English, which is what the market requires. We have to understand that in an increasingly globalized world, where companies are interacting more with foreign trade companies in other parts of the world, it is indispensable that the majority of the staff members have a strong English language skills at the vocational level.
What did PROESA do after recognizing this problem?
Responding to the companies’ demands, we designed a program with the purpose of closing this language gap, and by the end of January we made a public call so that students and professionals within the aeronautics, logistics, human resources, IT and tourism branches could come to the agency and have an evaluation.
How many young people were evaluated?
In total we evaluated 942 people. We held a standardized evaluation and hired a specialized institute to run a test so we could know the level of English they spoke. This allowed us to form groups of students based on the English level they posses and their technical or professional field.
Once this was done, we made a competitive bidding to hire a language institute that would provide the courses. We formally inaugurated this program the past July 15th, and the first groups already started to receive their classes. We now have 591 registered students in the groups and are also in the process of registering more.
How long does the program last?
This program has an approximate duration of 18 months, because there are two things that must be taken into account: first there is a very important group of students whose English is very low. Therefore, to take them to a superior level, which is what the industry requires, they need at least 700 or more hours of class.
Next we have the ones who are at a higher level, and need no more than 100 or 120 hours to achieve the superior level, and we have projected their graduation before the end of the year.
What will happen when the course is over?
Before the course concludes, we have asked the school to retest them so that we can compare how they were before to how they are now. We have also advised companies that came to us with this demand that we have responded and that we will continue to prepare a group of professionals, technicians and students with appropriate English levels that they wanted, adequately certified by a third party.
Obviously we can’t force the companies to hire someone, but we hope that many people can have better employment or promotion opportunities in the industries they already work for.
From where does the money for this investment come from? How much is it?
The government of El Salvador is investing $550,000 in this project. They are public funds inside the nation’s budget. This will permit us, according to calculations, to help a minimum of 650 students. This is our goal. If the students require less hours we will probably be increasing the number of students. This is the first time that the government in general and this agency in particular, develop a project of this nature. I would expect the program to keep advancing and that we have the first results. If everything turns out fine we expect that in a close future we can obtain new resources to reach a new stage in the program.