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Seizing the 4th Industrial Revolution: Maximizing talent development through WIOA

In recent months, the omnipresent wave of artificial intelligence (AI) has inundated every facet of media, business and even the nonprofit sector. As AI and machine learning advancements simultaneously inspire and instill fear, Puerto Rico finds itself at an inflexion point that could shape its economic trajectory.

Now, more than ever, our archipelago stands poised to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program. These federally allocated funds, often overlooked and underused by local authorities, harbor the potential to redefine our economic landscape by equipping Puerto Rico’s workforce with the skills necessary for the 21st century job market.

The WIOA program offers a gateway for Puerto Rico to cultivate a resilient, innovative and globally competitive workforce, essential for navigating the complexities of the digital age where automation, AI and advanced technologies reshape occupational demands.

Currently under its new brand and focus, Conexión Laboral is divided into 15 regions that work with municipalities and companies to generate workforce opportunities. To see one example of how companies can benefit, we can look at the Northwest Region and its collaboration with Amphenol Advanced Sensors.

Amphenol Advanced Sensors is a manufacturing company in Añasco. In 2023, 40 employees participated in a training program under the Registered Apprenticeship (RA) model of WIOA. This model combines work hours with classroom training. The design and implementation of training programs under the RA model are 100% custom-tailored by the company.

By participating in WIOA, Amphenol Advanced Sensors was able to upgrade the skills of its employees, resulting in efficiencies that have a positive impact in its bottom line. At the same time, 40 employees now have more knowledge and experience that can result in better compensation.

In a pivotal move last year, the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish) initiated its 21st Century Workforce program under the strategic framework of PRopósito.

This groundbreaking initiative will invest $50 million to transform education across the island, aiming to cultivate over 50,000 skilled workers and propel Puerto Rico into the top echelons of territories boasting 21st century talent. The program rests on three primary education pillars: the K-12 Lighthouse, Short Form Credentials, and Stackable Credentials.

Central to the realization of Puerto Rico’s 21st century workforce vision is the development of targeted programs capable of training and retraining our populace. The strategic deployment of WIOA federal funds can facilitate the creation of specialized courses and certifications tailored to high-demand fields such as technology, renewable energy, health care and advanced manufacturing. By doing so, Puerto Rico can position itself as a beacon for skilled professionals in these burgeoning sectors.

Pioneering companies such as IronHack and Holberton School lead the charge in the Short Form Credentials pillar, while local universities like Atlantic University and La Politécnica have designed courses catering to high-demand roles in cybersecurity and data analytics, aligning with the Stackable Credentials pillar.

The challenge lies in navigating the bureaucratic hurdles within the Department of Education to implement the K-12 Lighthouse pillar effectively, with potential collaborators like Engine-4 in Bayamón.

Nevertheless, our objective should revolve around crafting a comprehensive strategy that propels Puerto Rico to be the technical and innovative hub within the region, boasting a world-class talent pool at an appealing cost to both multinational corporations and local enterprises alike.

While developing talent is imperative, we need to understand that regional competitors are also enhancing their capabilities. The Dominican Republic is currently shortening the gap with its flagship training program, the National Institute of Professional Technical Training, or INFOTEP.

Author Alan M. Taveras-Sepúlveda is a board member and chairman of the Technology Committee of the United Retailers Association (CUD, in Spanish).

By harnessing the opportunities presented by WIOA, our trained workforce can provide a competitive edge unparalleled by any other player in the region, positioning Puerto Rico as a paramount innovation hub. By nurturing a skilled talent pool at a fraction of the cost, we can attract global investment from companies seeking a conducive environment to establish their operations.

It is imperative that Puerto Rico seize the moment, leveraging federal government funds from the WIOA program to redefine its workforce and catapult itself to the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Through strategic planning, collaborative efforts, and a steadfast commitment to lifelong learning, Puerto Rico can cultivate a resilient and dynamic workforce capable of not only tackling the challenges of the 21st century but also spearheading the industries of tomorrow.

The strategy should take into consideration the great work of the current stakeholders in the game. The 15 regions of Conexión Laboral would benefit by investing their funds to design programs and models in coordination with the effort Invest PR and the DDEC are currently undertaking.

Let us capitalize on the cards dealt to us; if played strategically, Puerto Rico holds the winning hand. 

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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