The GoSprout team recently had the pleasure of attending the Apprenticeship Accelerator in Puerto Rico led by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce.
In fact, we were invited as special guests. Puerto Rico is serious about growing apprenticeships as a way to educate the population and be sure that industry needs on the island are met. The program is lucky enough to have federal support from both the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy. It was also sort of a homecoming for Founder and CEO Carlos Vazquez, who spent his summers as a child on the island and still has a lot of family there.
We were just as excited to learn about the goals and challenges of apprenticeships on the island as our hosts were about learning how technology (including GoSprout’s apprenticeship management platform) could solve them.
The Apprenticeship Program Challenge as Puerto Rico Sees It
Puerto Rico has about 3.2 million people of which ~20% are below the age of 20. Unlike young people from its neighbors with full statehood, the economic future of Puerto Ricans who stay on the island is pretty underwhelming comparatively. See the full Puerto Rico profile on Census Reporter for more detail.
Per capita income of $16,676 is 40% of the mainland’s $41,804.
The median household income is $24,122, which is about one third of the $74,755 enjoyed in the states.
77% of households have an income below $50k.
Suffice it to say, leaders are pretty concerned about getting young people the education and opportunities they need to raise themselves, their families, and the island out of poverty.
Apprenticeships are viewed as a fantastic solution, but just like everywhere else, the complexities of registered apprenticeships are a challenge.
At present, there are only 27 registered apprenticeship programs on the island, serving roughly 1000 apprentices.
Goals of the Apprenticeship Accelerator Conference
The conference was put together to bring thought leaders together to find ways to…you guessed it…accelerate the creation of registered apprenticeships and the longer term goal of sending young people into the workforce with marketable skills that match with well-paid jobs.
First, Puerto Rico has to make it easier to get an apprenticeship in the first place.
We were excited to share the GoSprout story and explain to various stakeholders how we’ve put together a platform to make coordination and compliance simpler for RTI provider schools, sponsors, and employers. We also saw an opportunity to add to our services outside of the platform including marketing, employer outreach, and pre-training for individuals interested in signing up for a Registered Apprenticeship Program.
We also enjoyed learning more about the needs of the local programs with an eye on future enhancements to the platform and additional resources we can create for our community members.
A Territory in Transition
Our hosts let us know that in 2023, much of the existing apprenticeship programs were focused on more traditional types of work for the island: construction and electrical contracting.
However, our hosts are really excited about developing new industries via creating a labor force with skills and higher compensation in biotech and aerospace engineering, and they see having lots of healthy apprenticeship programs as critical for achieving those aims.
What Mainland States Could Learn from the Puerto Rico Apprenticeship Initiative
We were really impressed with the level of coordination between the various stakeholders at the conference. In addition to federal support, the local system all had representation and it was clear that an initiative was in place to solve the income disparity between the island and the rest of the United States.
While the average compensation numbers in the 50 states are certainly higher, there are plenty of regions where those numbers exist, and apprenticeships are a fantastic solution stateside as well.
At present, we don’t necessarily see that degree of coordination nor concerted effort in many states, but we hope that via education and bringing the barriers to entry down (by making launching and managing registered apprenticeships significantly simpler), we can be a part of solving similar problems across all 50 states and the rest of the territories.
Stay tuned…we’re excited to work with Puerto Rican stakeholders to streamline registered apprenticeship adoption on the island.
Helping companies that want to create programs but currently don’t due to concerns about bureaucracy and paperwork is what we built the GoSprout platform to accomplish.
We’re excited to report back next year on the progress in Puerto Rico and for our other community members across the country.