H-1B RTW grantee Puerto Rico Technoeconomic Corridor (PRTEC), technical assistance coach Tressa Dorsey met with the grantee and its education and training partners to conduct training and strategic planning activities, but the most memorable part of the trip was when she met with a RTW participant, Carlos L. 

During my recent visit to RTW grantee Puerto Rico Technoeconomic Corridor (PRTEC), one RTW participant, Carlos L., was gracious enough to sit down and talk with me about his experience both being unemployed for such a long period of time and also with enrolling in the PRTEC RTW program.  Before I share his story I think it is important to have a better understanding of “The Island” as it is often referred to by those that live there.

There are about 300,000 people on Puerto Rico and approximately 36,000 of them are unemployed or roughly 12% of their entire population remains out of the workforce.  That meant that Carlos was just one person, but he represented so many more.

The first thing that struck me about Carlos was his beaming smile.  It literally lit up the room and it was hard not to feel immediately jubilant just talking with him.  He is a clean cut guy in his later thirties or early forties, glasses and dressed in business casual attire.  I describe him only because there has been feedback from other grantees that employers wonder what is wrong with someone who hasn’t been able to find work for more than 27 weeks.  My point is, he looked like any other person working or not and that being long-term unemployed didn’t translate into downtrodden, depressed or disheveled.

Once we began talking, I asked him about his life over the last several months and he told me that he was a Civil Engineer and had been a Project Manager in the construction industry until last year, when he lost his job.  He said that even though he was a Civil Engineer and had managed multiple projects that these skills were not translating into work in the IT field, which is the direction he wanted to go in now that his other work was no longer available.  He said that after six months of looking for and not finding work, his debt increased in spite of his wife still working.  He and his wife have two children and while being able to be with the kids more was probably the best part of his unemployment, he still felt frustrated and was under a lot of pressure to provide stability for his family.

When I asked him about what it meant to have the PRTEC RTW program available, he simply said, “It gave me hope.”  Carlos told me in the beginning of our conversation that his English wasn’t that good and he would try his best to talk with me.  (I explained that it was ok, because my Spanish skills left much to be desired.)  When I probed more he said that finding a program that would allow him to take all of those same skills he had and earn a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification along with the software development skills he is learning gave him something else to focus on instead of not being able to pay his bills.  Enrolling in PRTEC RTW has allowed him to gain the specific skills and certification required in the IT industry.  He attended the training offered through RTW partner University of Puerto Rico and will be taking his PMP certification test in the next few months. 

Carlos was able to bid on a local request for proposal through one of the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico and he won the bid.  He has been working on this contract for almost five months now.  When we talked about the next step, he said something that made me pause.  He said, “I can talk to employers better now that I have the confidence and skills, but if I can’t find work on the Island I will have to move to the Mainland.”  It struck me that in order for Carlos to support and feed his family he would have to leave his home, his culture and this beautiful Island.  The next day, I woke up and saw the local newspaper had been delivered, the headline reiterated what Carlos has said to me: the census in Puerto Rico was dropping rapidly, tens of thousands of people were leaving their homes to seek out work on the Mainland, many to Florida but other states as well. That information made me truly understand the importance of the RTW program and my visit all that more meaningful.

Carlos was able to access the PRTEC RTW program, improve his skills to better align with the IT industry that is being targeted for this grant and has gained employment.  He says that going to job fairs is great because he gets feedback on how to improve his resume and his case manager helps him as well.  He is optimistic about passing his Project Management Certification and hopes that he will be able to stay in his home and gain work locally.

While this is one example of how PRTEC RTW has impacted an individual and their family, it also demonstrates the need for these types of programs to exist.  There were four different employer partners present at the site visit, among them Honeywell and Lockheed Martin.  Grant opportunities that can engage these large employers to invest back into the workforce where they have set up their business are imperative to the economic regeneration of Puerto Rico.  PRTEC RTW’s impact stretches beyond just employment numbers or economic growth.  It can impact the way generations of families have lived and continue to live in their own little island paradise.