LAND OF BOUNTY

Colombia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alfonso Prada Gil, Director General of The National Service of Learning (SENA), on its key role post conflict, upcoming development projects, and its focus on technical and technological training.

 Alfonso Prada Gil
BIOGRAPHY
Alfonso Prada Gil has been the Director of SENA since 2014. In 1997, he was elected to parliament as a member of the Liberal Party, where he remained until 2006. Later in his career as a public servant, he was the director the Instituto Distrital de Recreación y Deporte in Bogotá, a consultant to the national government, UNDP, and the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

How is SENA evolving to meet the country's rising demand for human capital?

SENA is turning 60 and emerged from the collective effort of Colombian businessmen, the national government, and workers with the aim of training Colombian workers to become more productive. During this time, it has been accumulating experiences and economic scenarios that offer different training alternatives. We have two fundamental elements, quality and relevance, both of which we seek to employ in the training we offer at SENA to the country's economic needs in light of the evolution of the world economy. For example, when the petroleum economy shifts, this has reverberations in several Colombian regions. SENA must also adapt to these regional and economical changes on a regional basis. This is how we maintain our relevance when it comes to education. The other element is quality, which is the difference between having an excellent or merely average graduate; this is why we invest a great deal of our resources in infrastructure, technology, and knowledge transfer to ensure high standards.

What role will SENA play in the implementation of the peace process?

The role of SENA in the peace process has two fundamental parts, the first being directed at the people who will be reintegrated into Colombia's democratic life and society. We are involved in the demobilization process of the self-defense groups, not to mention those who left the FARC or ELN in the last decade. In a broader effort, we have paired with the Agencia Colombiana de Reintegración, the agency specialized in receiving people who are reintegrating into society. We estimate there will be around 17,000 ex-militants whom we will have to receive and help train through employability and entrepreneurship schemes. The second important role that SENA plays post conflict is to offer different training alternatives to populations that were victims of the armed conflict. We have served more than 2 million of these people in the past 10 years and aim to keep this pace in the next 10. We will increase the presence of SENA in traditional conflict zones, where the presence of armed groups has until now restricted the presence of the state. Now that guerilla groups are being demobilized, the state and SENA will soon arrive.

What part of the Colombian economy will have the biggest future demand for labor?

The peace process will allow the arrival of important international and strategic investors. The president made a state visit to the UK in September, and most of the meetings he had were with the financial and corporate sector. In an effort to garner strategic investments, he billed the country's eastern plains as ripe for tourism. We still do not know half the country and projects like penetrating the Colombian forests, mountains, rivers, and the Orinoquia and Amazon regions will be important. We will also develop the fields and grow cocoa crops, which will allow us to produce high-quality chocolate that allows us to compete with other markets such as Switzerland. Currently we import 40,000 tons of rubber that we could produce ourselves—not to mention much more—for both consumption and export. This is how the peace process will open new opportunities. SENA currently offers rubber and cocoa training as well as environmental tourism. There are a great many dynamic new economic perspectives that the peace process is making possible that SENA will have to bring into the country.

What are your goals for the next year?

In numbers, we want to give 1.3 million Colombians technical and technological training. Regarding entrepreneurship, we want to create a thousand new companies using seed capital. Regarding professional certifications, we need to determine what skills people have through comprehensive exams and then build a fast employability route. We aim to certify at least 150,000 Colombians in job skills and employ around 400,000 new Colombians in formal jobs.