The Role of Hi-Tech Jobs in Puerto Rico's Development
B. What is a satisfying career, and what career structures most promote balanced socio-economic growth?
People's occupational careers are usually described by the sequence of jobs they hold during their working lifetime. Our search of the literature about Puerto Rican culture cautioned us not to expect a great deal of career-directed orientation on the part of Puerto Ricans because of their "traditional" tendency to accept their place in the scheme of things, not to be concerned about job movement or career advancement. As a result, in our employee interviews we did not ask direct questions about how they would characterize their careers. However, as we conducted the interviews we noticed that much of what the literature prepared us to expect was not present. In general, we found a reasonably strong career orientation present in our interviewees. And we found evidence to indicate that SMIs are contributing to the presence of this orientation.
While we have not received enough comments to make judgments about the extent of individuals' "career satisfaction," a number touched on issues related to it in our interviews. These include:
"I came here because I already heard about the company. I looked at other places but they wouldn 't hire a woman mechanic."
"I thought that I could advance at the supermarket, but I got frustrated. Meanwhile, my friends advanced well here, so I decided to apply."
"I was looking for research opportunities. I looked at SMIs because even if its not pure research, if you have a problem you have to research the problem and solve it."
"SMIs have much more sophistication and technology than most firms. This makes a supervisory job more challenging."
"The firm did have me get some training.. . I would aspire to be a supervisor because it would involve more money, privileges and benefits."
"Before, there was another position responsible for supervision-a chemical engineer. The company changed structure so that senior operators would supervise. If you assume responsibility you can become a supervisor."
"Overall there is tremendous mobility. The rapid growth results in constant movement and limited turnover. Even though there is no more potential for me now, I stay because some new slots could be created."
(In response to the question: "How would you feel about your children working here?") "No objection, but I would want them to have the top positions."
Several trends can be spotted in these quotations:
- SMIs are providing career opportunities to women who might not have access to them otherwise.
- SMIs provide options for research and supervision of technical process that are difficult to find in other firms.
- The opportunities provided by SMIs are helping to increase the aspiration level some Puerto Ricans are setting for themselves and their children.
- The way SMI jobs are "structured" allows for increased career movement options.
The ability of the SMIs to structure their jobs, training programs and promotion policies in a way that allows for career advancement opportunities is described in several of the previous case examples. This has significance for the development of a cadre of Puerto Rican management and technical specialists. Research on the stages that high-performing professionals pass through indicates that a multi-step progression is necessary for them to develop their skills without falling into the trap of obsolescence.
One model that several American career researchers (Dalton, Paul Thompson, and Raymond Price, "The Four stages of Professional Careers," Organizational Dynamics. Summer 1977) have developed involves four stages:
1. First, an individual works under the direction of others as appropriate. The person might have a mentor whom he or she helps and learns from.
2. The individual demonstrates competence as an independent contributor.
3. He or she broadens responsibilities and is more concerned with directing the work of others.
4. Finally, some individuals help shape the overall direction of the plant or company.
In our interviews we talked with Puerto Ricans in each of these stages. The existence of these stages, and the structured opportunities for movement from one to the other, demonstrate that SMIs can help Puerto Ricans develop in a way that enhances the island's skill stock of managers and technically competent professionals.
In the course of our research, we interviewed nine current or former managers of SMI facilities in Puerto Rico. We asked them about the range of contributions SMIs are making to Puerto Rico's development.
A number of the contributions mentioned are relatively simple to confirm. These include:
1. SMIs are creating a demand for Puerto Ricans to be trained as managers, which will over time be reflected in the curricula and course enrollment patterns of the island's schools.
2. SMIs' internal policies regarding environmental control and the handling of hazardous chemicals are more stringent than those required by Puerto Rican or federal law.
3. SMIs are helping increase Puerto Rico's stock of technically and managerially skilled citizens by their wide range of training and educational programs. In general, to meet their labor requirements, SMIs are tending to develop the Puerto Rican workforce as they have found it, rather than to rely primarily either on importing skilled talent or "pirating" it from other Puerto Rican industries.
4. SMIs are reducing the number of non-Puerto Ricans occupying senior managerial and professional positions.
5. SMIs are helping develop more Puerto Rican-owned industries-especially those that sell products or services to SMIs.
6. The voluntary fringe benefit programs of SMIs are being increasingly imitated by other industries operating in Puerto Rico.
7. SMIs are providing opportunities for Puerto Rican women to occupy managerial and technical positions.
In addition to these contributions, several items were mentioned that seemed to us as more impressionistic or harder to confirm. These include:
1. The impact of SMIs on creating a Puerto Rican middle class.
2. Instances of SMI employees who took pay cuts to work at the SMI because of the perceived "prestige" involved in being an SMI employee.
3. SMIs helping raise the general level of expectations held by Puerto Ricans; for example, to be less willing to tolerate poor schools or inadequate government services.
4. SMIs helping enhance the general career aspirations of the children of their employees.
Here are some illustrative quotations from the plant managers:
"[SMIs] are providing three very important non-economic benefits to Puerto Rico:
First, they are creating a demand for people to be trained as managers. These managerial skills would then be transferred and applied as these individuals did other work outside the plant in community affairs and also in other jobs that they might eventually hold. This increased demand for managers will also have an influence on the children of these employees, and this will be one way that they will begin to see some different, new career options.
Second, [SMIs] are contributing to raised expectations among Puerto Ricans. People are less willing to put up with poor schools and poor government, and the [SMIs] existence is beginning to widen the gap between how people want things to be and the reality that they see in Puerto Rico.
Third, [SMIs] are frequently a force for social change: aggressive promotion of equal employment opportunity, especially moves that [SMIs] have taken to promote women in the labor force to jobs not traditionally held by women."
"Much of the impact of [SMIs] on Puerto Rican families will be felt by the next generation of workers, the sons and daughters of current employees. These are the people who will have had their aspirations raised by the nature of the jobs that were available to their parents. They will also have had, for the first time, their parents' role models as Puerto Ricans operating and managing sophisticated manufacturing processes in a high-technology setting."
"We were encouraged to note the emergence of new courses of study that seem to parallel the skill requirements of many of the [SMIsI . These new courses of study at some universities and technical institutions involve increased technical emphasis in several areas: biology, chemistry, microbiology, and electronic data processing."
"Our company is making efforts to help encourage locally owned industries. We provide technical assistance or 'management-consulting' on an informal basis to a number of suppliers. Specifically, this has involved helping set up a local petrochemical company and also assisting a local packaging supplier qualify as one of our suppliers."
"One of our managers commented to me about the technical environment surrounding many of the lower-level production work jobs in this plant. Operators who previously just had to open the right valve at the right time now also have to make a number of decisions and monitor the product for quality. The GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) record keeping requirements have enlarged many operators' jobs into their also being a part-time bookkeeper and a part-time analytical chemist. This has had an impact on the workers. Now they have to understand what they are doing and be able to document it as they go along. These jobs seem to have many responsibilities that did not exist in most of the work opportunities available in Puerto Rico ten years ago."
"Another basis for the enlargement of responsibility in these jobs is the fact that the value of many of the raw materials used by [SMIs] has sky-rocketed in the past few years. In 1969, the Puerto Rican work force was scared to death of this kind of responsibility. Now, in less than ten years, the workers seem to take these new responsibilities very much in stride."
"Even the menial jobs in our plant are of a "higher grade" because the workers are surrounded by technical expertise, chemists, visiting engineers, and so forth. There is a high technical input per job. One outcome of this has been the gradual buildup of a core of technically trained Puerto Ricans. The [SMIs] here have the money to do the training to build this technical cadre."
"Growth of the [SMIs] has had an impact on the Puerto Rican construction industry. [SMIs] have been constantly building or improving facilities and they have helped to develop a more sophisticated construction trade in Puerto Rico. Now there is much more attention given to sheet-metal work than there had been in the past. [SMIs] are also having an impact on precision machine shops and other service industries in Puerto Rico, both using them and helping make a market for their services.
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