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Mexico: Pumping Out Engineers

The headlines are about low-wage illegals, but Mexico is swiftly upgrading its workforce

For years the Mexican workforce has meant one thing to multinationals: cheap, reliable labor, perfect for assembling cars, refrigerators, and other goods in the maquiladoras lining the border with America. More complex engineering and design work was better done elsewhere in the global economy -- usually at company headquarters in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

But as maquila-style assembly work migrated to cheaper locales, and India and China grabbed more sophisticated design and engineering assignments, Mexican officials knew they had to do something to stay in the global race. Quietly and steadily, they have. Over the past 10 years, the country's policymakers have been building up enrollment in four-year degree programs in engineering, developing a network of technical institutes that confer two-year degrees, and expanding advanced training programs with multinationals from the U.S. and elsewhere.