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Argentina profile: julio werthein


OCTOBER 24, 1995


‘Let’s give vocational training in rural areas so that students don’t migrate to crowded cities…’

By Ashali Varma

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina- His life’s story reads like a best -seller. At 77, Julio Werthein, Vice Chairman of Banco Mercantil Argentino and Unesco’s Goodwill Ambassador is as   involved with improving the quality of  education in his country as he is with banking.

Born to parents who migrated from Russia in 1904, he recalls the many ventures that his parent and brothers were involved with in their struggle to success.

“When he arrived in Argentina, my father went to work as a stevedore in the port of Bahai Blanca and a few years later he started a general store,” said Werthein. In 1923 his father bought a hotel and slowly expanded to four hotels in different cities under the name of Ideal. His brothers also started a general store and then expanded their business into importing trucks and agricultural machinery.

Werthein helped his parents with the hotels and his brothers with their business. “We sold the hotels in1953 and in 1957 we bought a bank called Banco el Hogar Argentino which we sold in 1963,” he said. In 1964, the brothers bought Banco Mercantil Argentino which at that time had four branches and was not worth much. “We worked at it and brought it up to what it is today a respected institution with 56 branches, worth over $80 million,” said Werthein. They also have interests in real estate, cattle ranching, orchards and cattle breeding farms.

Werthein is also the honorary president of ORT–Organization for Rehabilitation through Training-in Argentina which is affiliated to ORT technical schools in 41 countries around the world, The two ORT schools in Buenos Aires have 6,000 students and teach computer  sciences, architecture, biochemistry, physics and electronics. “The  standard of these schools are so high that students get jobs the moment they graduate,” said Werthein. “Now at the request of President Menem, I am working with the Ministry of Education to provide some kind of technical education in the schools in the provinces. Students will be able to receive

two additional years of technical training apart from the regular curriculum.”

The rationale behind this is to enable students to get vocational training and be better qualified for employment whether it is in computers or as technicians in electronics or as mechanics. Werthein feels it is important to set up these schools, with the capacity to deal with the employment requirements of the area, so that students can get jobs near their homes and don’t have to migrate to cities to look for employment and be housed in slums. In the initial stage approximately 100,000 to 200,000 students will benefit from it. The teachers will receive special training for this program in schools in the cities. As the Goodwill Ambassador to Unesco, Werthein see his role in helping to develop better standards for education in Argentina and Latin America, in the field of science, technology and the environment.