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Going Digital: Latin America’s Digital Workforce

Date & Time

Jul. 15, 2021
11:30am – 12:30pm ET


As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday activities in Latin America, it accelerated a shift toward digitization across diverse sectors. The impressive adoption of digital technologies in the workforce, commerce, education and health care may well have permanently changed public behavior, from online purchasing to telemedicine, in a region that had long lagged behind in its adoption of digital technologies. Amid the pandemic’s economic ruin, this transformation offers promising opportunities for post-pandemic recovery.

The question now is how Latin American governments build upon these changes and create incentives for further digitization, encourage private investment, maintain and expand a skilled digital workforce, protect online privacy, and improve cybersecurity in ways that speed the region’s economic recovery and diversification.

Taking advantage of digitization will not be straightforward, frictionless or cheap. High levels of informality in Latin America’s labor force represent another obstacle; on average, only 20 percent of jobs can be done remotely, compared to 41 percent in the United States. Though regional internet access has doubled since 2010, Latin America has not overcome its digital divide; a third of Latin Americans still lack regular internet access. The situation is worse in rural areas, where millions of low-income students have struggled to study remotely during the long months of lockdown. To promote further digitization and seize on economic opportunities, Latin American governments will need to partner with the private sector to improve online privacy and cybersecurity; dramatically expand online commerce; and build a workforce suited for the digital economy.

This event is part of the “Going Digital” series. To learn more, see our content below:

Latin America's Digital Divide: Overcoming Persistent Gaps

Uruguay’s Technology Sector and the Future of Fintech in Latin America

Going Digital: The Future of Digital Trade in Latin America

Going Digital: Privacy & Cybersecurity in Latin America

Getting Closer to Distance Learning: Online Education in Latin America

Selected Quotes

Tomás O’Farrell

"The fact is, there is no going back to the way we were. This is not one of those ‘change for a moment and then return’ [scenarios]. Once a genie is out of the bottle, it is impossible to put it back in again. What happened with the pandemic is that the world—but most importantly the talent—realized that they can be productive and happy working remotely. So once this realization sinks in, [the workforce] won’t go back."

"It doesn’t really matter what companies want to do, or try to do. In the end, the talent will be the one that makes the rules."

"I think one thing that characterizes Latin America is a lot of good intentions with very very low impact. So in that case, my suggestion would be for local governments to try to regulate as [little] as possible in the beginning, until you have a clear idea of how this whole thing would be. Because the risk that countries face now is, if you try to over-interact in something that isn’t yet happening, you may kill this and prevent it from going."

Paola Gálvez

"I have been advising government entities, major tech companies, and civil society organizations for the past 5 years. And what I’ve found in common from all my experiences is that it is fundamental that governments be aware that technology impacts people’s lives, and the social and economic growth of families."

"We have seen that one factor that we need to work with [is] inclusion. Because there are not many women involved in these [tech] careers or courses. That’s why we have been involved to one university in Arequipa, which is a region in South Peru, that is developing a free course for women to get close to technology, and to see if they’re interested in this… even [if] they will not follow a career in this, just to be close to [it].” ["

"Time has changed, and law needs to evolve. It’s always technology [that goes] faster than law, but we need to adapt. And we need to think that law needs to be open and flexible enough to drive innovation."

Alejandro Anderlic

"We keep complaining that the industry lacks this talent to fulfill the thousands of jobs that are open without someone who can cover them. And we keep complaining and don’t sit together to see how [we will] tackle the situation. So hopefully this type of public-private dialogue will help us advance real, actual, concrete, sustainable, and inclusive development for the region."

"We are living in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution and also in the middle of a global pandemic. extCOVID-19 has in fact accelerated the digital transformation of every organization. And I dare to say that, nowadays, every single organization may be considered a tech company or organization. So, to the lack of resources that we already had, we have this urgent upscale of needs because every organization is becoming more digital."

"Technology may be for mostly anyone, we don’t need geniuses to be the ones joining this workforce in the IT community, there are some positions that do not require these real hard tech skills. And if we bring together the talent, the adequate training, the certifications, and then the ability to be incorporated into the workforce, I believe we would be finding these nearshoring opportunities."

Hosted By

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Argentina Project

The Argentina Project is the premier institution for policy-relevant research on politics and economics in Argentina.   Read more

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