TL; DR: Laboratoria is working to transform the growing Latin American tech industry into a wealth of opportunity for women and organizations. Through its two lines of action, Laboratoria for Business and Laboratoria for Women, the group aims to foster a more competitive, diverse, and inclusive digital economy. In just five years, Laboratoria has produced more than 1,300 graduates from its bootcamp for women and trained over 6,000 collaborators in different organizations with the ultimate goal of spurring growth in the digital age.
It only takes a quick scroll through the latest tech headlines to grasp the magnitude of the digital skills gap that is threatening America’s future. An estimated 1.4 million computing jobs will be available by 2020, with only 400,000 college graduates prepared to fill them.
A story less frequently reported is that of Latin America’s skills crisis — the largest in the world. More than 50% of firms in the region struggle to find the right talent, versus just 36% of firms in countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an association of 37 countries across the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific.
In software development alone — predicted to be one of the fastest-growing career in Latin America during the next decade — the region will demand an estimated 1.2 million professionals by 2025, according to IDB. In addition to programming, there is also an increasing need for computing skills in artificial intelligence, digital transformation, data science, and user interface design. On top of these tech skills, companies need students who can master the soft skills needed for the changing world in which we live.
At the same time, nearly half of the population of women in Latin America are not represented in the labor force, and those who do work typically face hazardous conditions and low salaries.
Laboratoria, a social enterprise with training centers in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, is looking to change this by bridging Latin America’s talent gaps with participation from women, who represent a notable minority of IT professionals in the region.
“We noticed that opportunity for women Latin America was inequal, and we wanted to open up the market so they could demonstrate their talents,” said Ana Maria Martínez, Partner and CMO at Laboratoria.
Through programs like Laboratoria for Business and the Laboratoria for Women bootcamp, the group aims to transform the growing Latin American tech industry into a wealth of opportunity by nurturing a competitive, diverse, and inclusive digital economy. In addition to tech skills, Laboratoria also helps students learn the soft skills that are so important to success in today’s industry.
“At Laboratoria, we prioritize the development of soft skills over tech skills through our “Agile Classroom” methodology, which is very different from traditional education,” Ana said. “We don’t have classes. We give projects to our students, which most of the time come from real companies.”
In these projects, students are taught how to absorb information, manage uncertainty, adapt to change, work in teams, and present to clients. “They actually decide which tech skills they want to learn to create the product or service required in the project and they have coaches to answer any question they might have along the way,” Ana said.
6 Years of Experience Driving Industry Change
In 2013, before Laboratoria evolved into the social impact machine it is today, the Lima, Peru-based organization got its start as a web development agency known as Ayu.
“We were focused on building websites and web-based platforms for different customers,” Ana said. “For us, the issue was building our software development team. Qualified women, in particular, were nearly impossible to find.”
In 2014, to help address the root of the problem — namely, long-held stereotypes that lower women’s aspirations in tech fields and an educational system that had failed to adapt to a rapidly changing industry — the Ayu team launched Laboratoria.
The organization initially introduced a unique learning experience intended to train women and connect them with opportunities in the tech workforce. It took off quickly, generating interest from participants, companies, and the media alike.
On June 30, 2016, Mariana Costa Checa, CEO and Co-Founder of Laboratoria, was invited to serve on a panel at the Global Entrepreneurs Summit 2016, where the organization’s work was applauded by both President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“It is important to point out that Laboratoria’s success rate has been extraordinary,” Obama said, referring to the fact that 70% of the organization’s graduates were successfully employed at the time (a percentage that has since increased to more than 80% since 2018).
In 2017, the team unveiled Laboratoria 2.0 to train both women and organizations to realize an enhanced digital economy through diversity and inclusion.
“We now discover and train hidden talents in two spaces: In Laboratoria for Women, we train women that have not been able to access quality education and have tremendous potential for tech, and in Laboratoria for Business, we spot and train employees that want to become the agents of change their company needs to win in the digital age,” Ana said.
Fostering Professional Growth: The Laboratoria for Women Bootcamp
The Laboratoria for Women bootcamp is a six-month educational program for women over 18 consisting of five-hour classes from Monday through Friday. Any adult woman is welcome to apply for the bootcamp, but only those who are identified by Laborartoria as truly requiring social mobility will be accepted.
Upon completion of the bootcamp, students become part of the Laboratoria Graduates Network, a consortium of alumni who provide support focused on professional growth. The network includes graduates from all of the countries where Laboratoria bootcamps are held, including Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.
Laboratoria’s financing model is unlike traditional higher education tuition, which typically requires students to take out and repay massive student loans. Aside from a minimal symbolic fee paid during the bootcamp by students in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Lima, Laboratoria graduates pay for the bulk of their tuition after securing a job in tech.
In the case that students are not matched with a job, the organization will not charge tuition. That said, Laboratoria’s 2018 Impact Report revealed that 80% of graduates started their tech careers within six months of graduating, with the average post-program salary increasing a graduate’s income by more than 2.7 times.
Hire Diverse Talent with Laboratoria for Business
The social enterprise’s second area of focus is Laboratoria for Business, a program that helps graduates connect with tech companies — and tech companies hire and train diverse teams to speed digital transformation. In addition to hiring, the program helps orgnaizations build the skills necessary for a successful corporate talent pool in the digital age.
The organization matches graduates with these businesses via recruiting tools such as the Laboratoria TalentApp, as well as related events. In 2018, Laboratoria hosted eight Talent Fests in which companies, such as Accenture and Citibank, provided tech challenges for students to solve in a bid for employment.
After participating in one such Talent Fest in 2018, Chile-based department chain Falabella Retail was so impressed by the skills presented that it hired seven Laboratoria students.
Laboratoria also offers a number of courses designed to enhance the skills and abilities of upper management, middle management, human resources, and individual teams. The organization’s Digital Leadership course, for example, helps upper-management leaders handle digital transformation with grace, while the Cultural Transformation session aids HR leaders in creating an atmosphere of experimentation and continuous improvement.
Leaders of digital products at Falabella Retail, for instance, learned to leverage lean startup skills through the Laboratoria Adopting Experimentation workshop. “It would have taken me six months to build something and validate it,” an HR representative from Falabella stated in a case study on the Laboratoria site. “Now, I know I can do it in a few days without needing a whole development team.”
Laboratoria for business has helped several customers gain a competitive edge, including Everis, which acquired more than 30 Laboratoria graduates; and Alicorp, which has trained 1,000 corporate students.
Making an Impact: Recent Accomplishments and Future Priorities
In 2018 alone, Laboratoria helped 473 women graduate as front-end developers and UX designers, with 80% of graduates securing jobs at companies such as Avanade, Engie, and Groupon within six months.
The social enterprise also trained 30 companies across 14 industries on how to embrace and master digital transformation, after which many of those companies went on to hire Laboratoria graduates.
Moving forward, Ana told us the company is preparing to launch its sixth training center in Colombia based on the area’s rapidly growing tech sector and interest from residents. As Laboratoria scales up, the company welcomes potential donors who would like to help it become self-sustainable in the next three years (it has achieved this goal in Peru but not in all locations). For general inquiries or to donate to the cause, visit www.laboratoria.la/contactenos.