Interview with Dr. Fernando León Garcia

January 22, 2024
Health Education Interview Cards - 2

Interview with Dr. Fernando León Garcia, President of Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior (CETYS University), Baja California, Mexico

CETYS University has spent over 60 years building strong ties with industries in Baja, helping the university align its academics with the next generation of jobs, says Fernando León Garcia, President of CETYS. This approach, he explains in an interview with IFC, has allowed the university to improve student employability and foster the region’s economic development. Dr. León Garcia talks about what’s shaped the university’s successes, and what he sees as the right strategy for preparing students for the workforce.

When it comes to higher education, Mexico has lower enrollment rates than other parts of Latin America, particularly among low-income students. What is CETYS doing to attract prospective students?

The state of Baja is investing heavily in higher education relative to other states and trying to open up as many options as possible. As a private institution, CETYS University supports Baja’s strategy by trying to make CETYS education accessible to qualified students, regardless of their socio-economic status. One way is through financial assistance. In fact, about 80 percent of our 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students get financial assistance. We also offer high-quality programs to attract students as well as hands-on support to help ensure they succeed. We want to develop well-rounded citizens who are employable and can contribute to the region's economic development.

How does CETYS adapt its curriculum to prepare students for the next generation of jobs?

We do several things to prepare students for their future work, regardless of what they are studying. Our core curriculum includes courses in entrepreneurship, social responsibility, sustainability, digital literacy, internationalization, and, increasingly so, inclusion, which we consider essential skills to be successful in the workplace.

We also have a systematic curriculum review process where we solicit feedback from companies we work with and academics from other institutions on what we are offering and how courses can be improved. In addition, we have several advisory boards comprising government, industry, business, and faculty leaders from other academic institutions that meet twice yearly and help us shape our longer-term strategy.

Baja California is building up its workforce in several key industries, such as aerospace, biotechnology, and medical devices,  to meet the needs of multinational companies. What can CETYS do to make sure its students can benefit from the new job opportunities and that these industries can meet their skills needs?

Being responsive to the needs of our community and collaborating with business leaders to fuel regional development is part of our DNA. Since the institution began, our board has been made up of business leaders in the region who are tapped into the challenges industries are facing so we can respond to those needs.

Our degree programs are current, relevant, and responsive to business and industry needs so that CETYS graduates have the skills and knowledge to help these companies succeed. We develop retraining programs for employees who need more advanced skills like manufacturing and operations. We also involve CETYS students in our engagements with industries. Business leaders regularly come to our classrooms, or our students and faculty go to them to familiarize themselves with their processes and challenges. This helps us provide short-term solutions and better anticipate the industry's long-term needs.

What vocational skills and training are in the highest demand currently?

At the recommendation of a CETYS external advisory council, we recently conducted a review with stakeholders from 20 leading multinationals from the region on the types of skill they were most in need of. Manufacturing, engineering, and supply chain management skills, particularly advanced technical skills in these areas, were at the top of the list. Companies also prioritize language proficiency, customer service, and communication skills across industries.

Analysis of our review also exposed a number of interesting in-demand soft skills. Employers are looking for people who understand how to make change happen and the basic skills that go into that, like making a presentation, speaking and presenting ideas, identifying the root causes of a problem, and formulating solutions. By fortifying these skills in CETYS students, companies don’t have to spend as much to train young new workers.

You have built relationships with leading companies like Boeing, Skyworks, and Honeywell. Can you share an example of your collaboration with them?

The aerospace industry is a great example of the gap we are filling between labor force demand and the supply of skilled workers. As the aerospace cluster grew in Mexico, it quickly became apparent that the industry needed its workforce to be skilled at a higher level. So, in collaboration with regional industry leaders, we developed a Master’s in Engineering and Innovation to meet the needs of companies like Honeywell and Gulfstream Aerospace. We also designed graduate-level classes in aeronautics and aviation to upskill current aerospace employees. What was particularly exciting as we looked at needs across different industry clusters was the development of an online based master’s focusing on Operational Excellence so that multinational companies no matter where they were located could make sure their workforce was keeping up with the rate of advancement in the industry.

Can you tell me more about CETYS research and development centers across Baja California?

As part of our strategic plan, called CETYS 2020, we reflected on how to enhance our contribution to the region. As I mentioned, we have worked closely with industry leaders and teams for decades to help them solve complex problems and ensure our programs support their current and future workforce needs. But we needed a way to capture opportunities through research and development. So, we established centers of excellence for each of our three colleges to support research and development. The first is a center of excellence on innovation and design tied to engineering. The second is a center of excellence on competitiveness and entrepreneurship, and the third is one on social and human development related to humanities. All three work with the advisory councils and colleges to develop new products or processes that support Mexico’s economic agenda.

How have linkages between CETYS and the private sector affected the employability of your graduates?

Since day one, we have been working hard to develop highly skilled, engaged, forward-looking graduates that are immediately of value to the companies they work for. CETYS graduates have consistently had high employment rates. Even during COVID, the rate did not go below 92 percent. Our graduate employment rates are inching back to the traditional high of 97 percent, defined as students being employed within a year of graduation and 50 percent of students on average having jobs before they even graduate. The reflection is we have done great with the help of our trustees and our networks, but there is more to do. We must continue to be responsive and relevant to what society requires.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Published in January 2024


Dr. Fernando León García has been the President of CETYS University since 2010 and currently serves as the President of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) for the 2021-2024 period. He has been a driving force behind institutional accreditations by organizations in the United States, including the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Dr. León García previously served as the President of the International Division at City University of Seattle, overseeing programs, campuses, and partnerships in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He holds a Doctorate in Administration and Educational Policy from Stanford University and a degree in Industrial Engineering from CETYS University.

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