CURRENT SITUATION

Availability of IT professionals

For many years, employers, both IT vendors and IT clients, have faced serious difficulties recruiting the qualified IT personnel they need.  And the interesting thing is that every year local universities produce more than enough IT graduates to meet the demand for these professionals.  So, we face a big inconsistency here. 

Based on a study conducted by Prof. Arnaldo I. Ramos for the Puerto Rico Information Technology Cluster in 2015, there were about three open positions for computing professionals per each of the 63 respondents to a questionnaire.  These positions had remained opened even though employers had carried out actions to fill them, like placing newspaper ads, visiting universities, and interviewing candidates.  If we were to extrapolate this finding, several hundred of these professionals would be needed.

And based on an exploratory activity conducted by professor Ramos in August 2018 with some employers, a substantial decline was found between the percentage of applications received for several IT job openings, the percentage of applications that prequalified (based on the application) and the percentage of candidates finally hired (after being interviewed).  A possible explanation for this decline could be the lack of suitability of these candidates for the positions.

Exploratory activity recruiting IT personnel, A. Ramos, August 2018
(Source: Exploratory recruitment activity conducted in August 2018 with three main IT employers in PR, Application index = number of applications received divided by the number of candidates to be hired, Prequalification index = number of applications that prequalified divided by the number of candidates to be hired, Recruitment index = number of candidates finally hired divided by the number of candidates to be hired)

 

On the other hand, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of graduates from computing programs at the bachelor level in Puerto Rico fluctuated between close to 900 in 2013-14 and close to 1100 in 2016-17. (https://nces.ed.gov/ ).  If we include associate and graduate degrees, these numbers get even higher.  Yearly demand for computing graduates has been estimated by the Puerto Rico Labor Department at 740 positions, which is much less than the number of graduates (http://www.mercadolaboral.pr.gov/Publicaciones/Proyecciones/Proyecciones_LP.aspx).  

The previously stated situation is highly contradictory, so it deserves careful analysis.  Why are employers having difficulties recruiting if enough graduates are produced and they offer competitive salaries and benefits?  Are these graduates migrating to the United States?  Are they unemployed, sub-employed or employed in other jobs?  Do they have the skills required by the open positions?  Are these graduates more oriented towards support activities, instead of development activities?  Regardless of the reasons, we do face a difficult situation.  

Employers can be of great help to address the previous situation, as they can provide advice, tools and strategies to increase the quantity, improve the suitability, and increase the retention of IT graduates.  The solution should not be just to increase the supply, but also to make sure this supply is well balanced between the different computing disciplines, that it complies with the characteristics requested by employers and that graduates stay to work in Puerto Rico.  Otherwise, we may end up having a larger supply, but not necessarily suitable, balanced or available to meet the demand.
 

Demand for IT professionals     

The demand for Information Technology professionals in Puerto Rico has been estimated by the Puerto Rico Department of Labor as 740 positions each year, up to 2026.  This number comes from the following: 26 new positions due to growth, 194 due to permanent exits (i.e. retirement, death) and 520 due to transfers to other professions.  Until a couple of years ago, the estimated demand was much less.  USDL revised its methodology, thus resulting in an increase in the demand, due to an increase in separations (exits and transfers).  It is interesting that, by far, most of the job openings do not come from growth in the total number of positions, but from people that leave the occupation.

Estimated demand for IT professionals
Source: USDL Bureau of Labor Statistics and PR Department of Labor
Supply of IT professionals     

The number of graduates from computing programs at the bachelor level in Puerto Rico fluctuated between close to 900 in 2013-14 and close to 1100 in 2016-17.  And if we include associate and graduate degrees, these numbers get even higher. About 20% of these graduates are from the University of Puerto Rico and the other 80% are from private institutions.

Supply of IT graduates
(Source: USDE/National Center for Education Statistics (www.nces.org), compiled by Prof. Arnaldo I. Ramos-Torres.)
As can be deducted from the data on the previous table, Puerto Rico produces more than enough IT professionals to meet the estimated demand.  But even so, employers face serious difficulties recruiting the personnel they need.
Evidencing the quality of our graduates

There are several factors that influence the quality of the graduates from an academic program.  Some of these factors are input-related, like program design, faculty, physical facilities, and equipment.  Others are oriented towards results and are evidenced by student and program outcomes.  Some factors belonging to this last category are:

Some outcome-oriented factors
It is important for an academic program to evidence the quality of its graduates through these factors.
Graduation rate
We took the individual graduation rates for institutions in Puerto Rico that offer four-year degrees in computing disciplines, as published by the National Center for Education Statistics, and averaged these rates, both overall and separated between public (UPR) and private (Non-UPR) institutions.
Graduation rates in 150% of “normal time”
As can be seen from the table, local graduation rates are well below USA average.
Retention rate
We also took the individual retention rate for institutions in Puerto Rico that offer four-year degrees in computing disciplines, as published by the National Center for Education Statistics, and averaged these rates, both overall and separated between public (UPR) and private (Non-UPR) institutions. “Retention rates measure the percentage of first-time students who are seeking bachelor's degrees who return to the institution to continue their studies the following fall.” (NCES)
First year retention rates
As can be seen from the table, overall local retention rates are below USA average, but not much below.  UPR retention rates are above the USA average.
Accreditation of IT academic programs
Accreditation by a well-known agency is a very important achievement for an academic program.  We specifically refer here to “program accreditation”, which applies to a particular academic program, not to the institution as a whole.  For example, the accreditation from ABET’s Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) or from the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC).)  Among other things, accreditation evidences quality, promotes a common body of knowledge, enhances opportunities for employment and further studies, and increases eligibility for many federal student loans, grants, and/or scholarships.  (www.abet.org)
ABET CAC and EAC accredited computing programs
Not many computing academic programs in Puerto Rico are accredited by ABET, which is the most recognized accreditation agency for computing programs.
Employability rate
The employability rate of an academic program evidences its success. (We are using a very simple definition for employability: the percentage of graduates that get a job in their particular discipline not long after they graduate).  So far, we haven’t found published data on the employability of IT graduates in Puerto Rico.  Empiric data on this would be of great help, among other things, to explain why employers are having difficulties recruiting the IT personnel they need, even though we are producing enough graduates to meet the demand.
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