US Firms to Train Latin American IT Executives

The Department of Commerce will invite some 20 Latin American information technology managers to the US for some heavy e-business training with some of the nation's largest manufacturing and service companies.

President Bush announced the program, called the "Inter-American E-Business Fellowship Program," while in Canada pursuing an effort to extend NAFTA throughout Central and South America.

"This will give young professionals from throughout the Americas the opportunity to learn about information technology by spending time with US companies," Bush said in a statement.

The program will run the managers through a week-long orientation on e-commerce at the Commerce Department, after which each will be individually matched with a US company to undergo a five- to six-week internship. The programs will focus on using technology to increase efficiency, productivity, and integrating IT in supply-chain management and "back room" operations.

A Commerce Department official said the selection criteria had not yet been established, but that the process would be a "a fairly open" one, based on the Special American Business Internship Program. Run by the Commerce Department, SABIT has trained more than 2,500 executives from newly-independent nations at US firms over the past three years.

Funding for the program will come mostly from the Department of Commerce's FY2001 budget, tapping roughly $200,000 from the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIst) training program. The host firms will pay for health insurance, interpreters, and domestic transportation. The agency hopes to have the program up and running by September 2001.

The Commerce Department has not yet selected the entire group of US firms that will participate in the program, but the short list so far includes Caterpillar Industries, Bell Helicopter Textron, and General Electric. An Commerce Department spokesperson said the agency also is seeking to attract high-tech firms in the computer, software and "Internet industries."

"We're trying to make it a profile of companies that are successfully using Internet today in their business," the agency spokesperson said.

For many skilled IT worker-starved US firms, the program could be a great way to gain a foothold in recruitment markets overseas. A Commerce Department spokesperson said while recruitment was not a key focus of the program, nothing in the agreement expressly prohibits companies from using that consideration in their selection criteria.

GE spokeswoman Louise Binns said her company would most likely look at managers from companies with which GE has an existing or potential business partnership, and that the process would be similar to e-mentoring and training exchange programs already in place at the company.

"This is more a networking and contact building program that will help both sides establish contacts between professionals," from both companies, she said.

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