VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile – The country’s economic stability compared to other Latin American countries in recent years has forced thousands to pursue advanced degrees to boost their careers and seek better salaries, according to human resources and education analysts.
Salaries of Chilean professionals holding graduate degrees have risen 114% since 1990, according to the National Socioeconomic Characterization survey (CASEN), conducted by Chile’s Ministry of Planning and Cooperation.
College graduates in 1990 earned an average of CLP$485,000 (US$981) monthly, while professionals with advanced degrees, including medical doctors and lawyers, earned an average of CLP$817,000 (US$1,653), according to CASEN’s survey. Professionals with advanced degrees today make an average of CLP$1,748,380 (US$3,537).
Patricio Centeno, director of the commercial engineering program at the Universidad Andrés Bello, in Viña del Mar, and board member of the Valparaíso Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it is advantageous to have a graduate degree.
“The distinctive element, or the plus as it is called in Chile, for a professional is, for example, to have done graduate coursework or to speak English,” Centeno said. “And that is in addition to whatever [professional] experience they may have. It is a back-up to get better opportunities.”
Chilean professionals are enrolling in graduate programs to solidify their position at their places of employment, to get better jobs or to specialize in an area they didn’t cover thoroughly as undergraduates.
Karin Gubernatis, 45, said diversifying her studies has given her more options.
“There is no doubt that any kind of study is going to help you in your personal and professional development,” Gubernatis said, who studied business administration and commercial engineering as an undergraduate and later earned an M.B.A. (master’s in business administration). “In addition, it obviously gives you greater security to be able to face current challenges.”
Advanced degrees just one element sought by employers
Gubernatis, who began her career as an engineer freelancing for different companies, said she opened her own real estate services company, which considerably increased her monthly income, after earning her master’s degree in 2004.
“A professional who has a master’s or a doctorate is always going to have a plus and is going to see many open doors,” she said.
Pablo Massú, an executive director at BVM Consultores, a headhunting company based in Santiago, said firms don’t look just at studies, but also at an applicant’s work experience.
“They have to show stability in their previous jobs and ideally, to have coursework in an area of specialization,” he said.
Chile’s universities offer 307 graduate programs that have been accredited by the National Accreditation Commission, 123 of which are doctoral programs, and 184 master’s programs, according to the National System for Higher Education Information (SIES).
When recruiting new employers, Massú said, companies look at professionals with advanced degrees who are team players, able to adapt to change, show empathy and leadership among their colleagues and clients, have a good handle on ambiguity, have a high drive for achievement and are committed.
Chile’s unemployment rate is 8.3% after reaching 8.6% at the end of 2009, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE).
Massú also said employers particularly look for graduates who have a background in business administration, research skills and documented professional growth.
“An upward path in terms of employment, from lower to higher positions of responsibility, is an important requirement when choosing staff,” he said.