If you’ve been keeping up with GoSprout lately, you may have read an article we shared: What Puerto Rico Can Teach Mainland Employers and Communities About Apprenticeships.
Now that the GoSprout platform is live, we’re really excited to be working with Universidad Politecnica de Puerto Rico to help them launch, scale and streamline their apprenticeship program, and we’re lucky enough to have an engineer by trade who also has 22 years of experience with the university be our point person.
Professor Luis Olivares-Lugo, Corporate College & Apprenticeships Director was kind enough to share his perspective on Puerto Rico’s education and compensation challenges as well as how registered apprenticeship programs can help move the needle in the right direction for the island, its employers, and students who are about to enter the workforce.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Prof. Olivares-Lugo.
A Little Background
Q: Many of our readers are not terribly familiar with how Puerto Rico is and is not different from the continental US in terms of education, employment opportunities, and wages. Can you give us some background on the situation?
Sure thing! I’d be happy to provide some background on how Puerto Rico differs from the continental United States in terms of education, employment opportunities, and wages. It’s important to note that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and its residents are U.S. citizens, but there are distinct differences in these aspects when compared to the mainland United States.
Puerto Rico has its own public education system, which is primarily conducted in Spanish. While there are English language programs, the majority of instruction is in Spanish. In contrast, the continental U.S. conducts education in English, and there is a diverse range of education systems, including public schools, private schools, and charter schools. Puerto Rico has faced higher unemployment rates than the mainland United States. Economic challenges and limited job opportunities have contributed to this issue. Our economy has been historically dependent on government jobs, manufacturing, and tourism. Compared to the continental U.S., Puerto Rico has a more limited range of industries and job sectors. This can make it challenging for residents to find diverse employment opportunities.
Wages in Puerto Rico, on average, are lower than those in the mainland United States. This wage gap is influenced by factors such as the cost of living, the local economy, and the types of jobs available.
Right now presents a remarkable opportunity for Puerto Rico to accelerate its development in the areas of education, employment opportunities, and wages. Encouraging the growth of emerging sectors, such as renewable energy, technology, and healthcare, can provide exciting employment opportunities for our citizens.
Is Student Debt a Problem in Puerto Rico?
Q: One of the challenges with higher education that we hear about a good bit in the national news is “The Student Debt Crisis.” To what degree does that exist in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rican students and residents can access federal student loans, as Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. This includes loans like Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, and Pell Grants. These programs are similar to those available in the mainland U.S. However, some of our economic challenges have influenced the student debt situation. High unemployment rates, limited job opportunities, and lower average incomes can make it difficult for some graduates to repay their student loans. Puerto Rican borrowers may face challenges in accessing certain federal income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs that are more readily available to residents of the continental U.S. Efforts to address these challenges are important in the context of higher education and economic development in Puerto Rico.
Goals for UPPR
Q: One of your titles with UPPR is “Corporate College & Apprenticeships Director.” What are the goals for UPPR with regard to apprenticeships?
Industry Alignment: Ensure that the programs offered align with the current and future needs of industries in Puerto Rico and globally. This might involve ongoing dialogues and consultations with industry leaders to identify skill gaps. Right now, we are discussing these alignments with several industries and associations, such as the medical devices cluster.
Skill Development: Develop and deliver high-quality training programs that focus on both technical and soft skills, helping individuals and organizations adapt to evolving industry demands.
Apprenticeship Opportunities: Establish partnerships with local businesses to create apprenticeship programs that provide hands-on experience for students, thereby bridging the gap between education, higher education and industry needs.
Workforce Development: Aim to enhance the employability of students, graduates and professionals by offering courses and certifications that are recognized and valued by employers.
UPPR wants to develop multiple collaborative models as an “RTI integrator” and Sponsor. We’re excited to leverage the GoSprout platform to begin our journey as a Sponsor and scale more easily because of the improved reporting and communication available with GoSprout.
Q: How does UPPR work with employers with regards to apprenticeships?
We are developing this model right now and learning rapidly on the best collaborative model. We are making presentations to individual industries and organizations. As we progress, we are open to innovative models on how to do this effectively and efficiently.
Q: How do you factor in community goals when setting the agenda for apprenticeships at UPPR?
We are guided by enhancing the collaboration between industry, government and academia.
Additionally, to this question, there are related goals:
Research and Innovation: Encourage research initiatives that focus on the development of innovative training methods and technologies, staying at the forefront of educational advancements.
Measurable Outcomes: Set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your programs, such as placement rates, certification completion rates, and employer satisfaction.
Continual Improvement: Implement feedback loops to continually improve the curriculum, teaching methods, and program offerings based on input from students, employers, and faculty.
Community Engagement: Foster a strong relationship between the Corporate College and the local community, including businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.
Sustainability: Develop a sustainable financial model that allows the Corporate College to operate effectively and expand its offerings over time.
Technology Integration: Utilize advanced technology, such as e-learning platforms and virtual reality, to enhance the learning experience and make it more accessible.
Lifelong Learning: Promote lifelong learning by offering programs and resources for professionals to continually upgrade their skills throughout their careers.
Challenges of Apprenticeship Management
Q: What have been some of the historical challenges of registered apprenticeship management? Are you saying even people with Engineering degrees find them challenging?
As a member of the State Board for Workforce Development, the main challenge is the significant paperwork and bureaucratic “silos” processes for companies to comply with registered apprenticeship management. There are also challenges for companies, when for example, companies feel that sharing their employees’ salaries is a threat rather than an opportunity.
Q: How do you think those challenges have impacted the quantity of available registered apprenticeships on the island?
Funds are not optimized, point and simple. WIOA funding is continually being decreased to PR.
Q: You were kind enough to spend some time when our team was on the island, and have since gotten to experience the GoSprout SaaS platform from the perspective of a university. What are your thoughts?
I value our limited time with the GoSprout team and I enjoy the full potential of our agreement.
Q: What’s got you excited about using the tools and being a part of the community?
I am a true believer in the lifelong learning mantra and that the future of organizations learning continuously to face the complexity of the future is a must.
How to get Started
Q: For employers in Puerto Rico who may be considering launching a registered apprenticeship, what would you say are the first steps?
Reaching out to us – we’re able to take them through the process and now with GoSprout, make it even easier to manage!
Q: For students looking at how to get a higher education degree, what advice could you share?
Start small and discover your passion.