Maite Palat: “Businesses Committed to Upgrading Employee Skills are More Likely to Survive”

Interview with Maite Palat, head of the Mercabarna Training Area

How are you dealing with this new era at the helm of the Area? 
With excited optimism. We’ll maintain the approach taken to date and expand or improve our service offer when necessary.

Until now you coordinated the Area’s ongoing training courses. What does this experience bring to your new post?
Above all it has enabled me to work closely with some of the food and distribution sector businesses, both from Mercabarna and outside the precinct. I believe it is vital to stay in touch with business owners because they know the training needs of their employees and managers.

What are the Area’s main projects for this new era?
One of our goals is to encourage Mercabarna businesses to make even better use of the services the Area offers them. Many things need to be done and improved in this regard. The figures speak for themselves.

For example?
The Area has organised training courses for 55% of the distribution chains (with over 10 sales establishments) based in Catalonia. In contrast, only 16% of Mercabarna businesses have taken part in our courses for active employees...

So you’d say that precinct firms still place little importance on training...
To tell the truth, many Mercabarna businesses are still not aware of the importance of training their employees as a tool for motivating them and improving job performance.

What’s your message to businesses that haven’t yet done anything in terms of training? 
I’d tell them that, in an increasingly competitive environment, businesses committed to upgrading their human resource teams’ skills and abilities and who know how to motivate them to apply this new knowledge to their job performance are more likely to survive.

Languages, IT, accounting, first aid... The course offer for employees is quite varied...
Yes, it is, and it is upgraded to meet the food sector’s needs and the social reality. Don’t forget that training is the most effective resource for adapting to the new developments taking place.

Will there be changes in vocational training?
As a centre that collaborates with the Catalan Employment Service and as a business linked to Barcelona City Council’s Department of Economic Promotion, we will continue to support this type of training and offer courses for employees of fishmonger, butcher, charcuterie, fruit and flower shops. However, we will also strive to improve professional levels and hence the prestige of the fishmonger, fruit vendor and butcher trades and boost the enterprising spirit of our students.

Does this mean there will be further cooperation with Mercabarna business associations?
Yes, because it’s necessary. We must work together to organize the training offer, which is to say, agree on the subject matter of the courses, their content, timetables and so on. They can help us in this regard since they know the training needs of sector employees. We also have to work together to provide businesses with access to the available financial subsidies, which are quite substantial in the training area and often business owners are unaware of them.

How does the Training Area deal with the rising number of immigrant employees in the food sector?
We have a significant number of immigrants in vocational training courses. In 2008 they accounted for 45% of our students. And precisely for this reason, we are now working with the associations that represent the different immigrant groups to make them aware of our training offer, since they are potential employees for the agro-food sector.