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Puerto Rico’s High-Tech Workers Among Lowest Paid

National stats offer bleak salary outlook


July 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico holds 52nd and last place among U.S. states and the District of Columbia in terms of average wage for high-technology employment, according to figures released by the American Electronics Association.

The most recent industry survey from the AEA, released in June, cites the average annual salary in 2001 as $31,249 for a field of 26,474 workers in three categories: communications services, electronic components and accessories, and manufacturing of communication equipment.

The AEA survey also indicates that Puerto Rico ranks 37th among U.S. states and the District of Columbia in high-tech employment, with only 36 of every 1,000 private-sector workers belonging to high-tech firms. High-tech workers in the private sector can expect an average yearly wage of $18,527, according to the AEA.

The Washington, D.C.-based agency is the largest high-tech trade association in the U.S., with almost 3,500 members from the software, Internet, advanced electronics, telecommunications, and other areas. Its survey is known as "Cyberstates 2002: A State-by-State Overview of the High-Technology Industry."

"These statistics make Puerto Rico attractive for companies that want to keep costs down," said Matthew Kazmierczak, senior manager of research at AEA. Speaking to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS by phone from Washington, he also acknowledged that local tech talent may continue to leave the market in search of better-paying jobs in the U.S. and elsewhere.

According to a local source within the information services industry, annual entry-level salaries for the infrastructure category can range from $18,000 to $24,000, while those who deal in software design can claim up to $50,000 in salary.

By comparison, the AEA ranks Washington state as the industry leader, with an average annual wage of $118,300. California came in second place with $99,200 per year.

"When we talk about the thinking side of the business–the engineers and scientists–we should be moving away from quantity and closer to quality," said Abelardo Ruiz, executive vice president of Avant Technologies. "We’re dealing with the question: What kind of job opportunities can the industry offer?"

Reinaldo Arroyo, a partner in Consulting Resources Group, said the salary outlook for local tech talent must improve if Puerto Rico expects a greater contribution from the tech industry to the local economy.

"The positioning of Puerto Rico as a manufacturing base tends to hold back the information technology base. We need to shift the emphasis to the other side," Arroyo said.

Statistics from the AEA seem to support Arroyo’s point of view. Kazmierczak said AEA research indicates upward trends in employment for high-tech, though the gain is thanks to the serivces sector, not manufacturing.

Of the three categories analyzed by the AEA, communications services shows the most growth; it posted 10,700 jobs filled in 2000, compared with 4,100 in 1997. Meanwhile, jobs in communications equipment manufacturing fell from 5,800 to 2,600 in the same period, and electronic components and accessories dropped by 800 to 6,400 jobs filled.

In total, some 6,600 new jobs were filled in high-tech jobs in Puerto Rico between 1997 and 2001, a 33% increase. However, the latest trend is not encouraging: Some 240 net jobs were lost from 2000 to 2001.

Manuel Figueroa, president of Virtual Educational Resources Network (VerNet), suggested that Puerto Rico needs a stronger signal from its leadership on the issue. "Until we have a mandate that places technology as a crucial strategy for our economic development, we won’t see the demand for talent that justifies a change in tech salaries," Figueroa said.

VerNet’s Figueroa forsees an upturn in the salary cycle. "Growth in several tech areas is exponential, so demand will once again exceed supply in about two years," Figueroa said.

Other findings from the AEA survey:

  • Puerto Rico ranks 50th when it comes to venture capital investments, a category in which the U.S. saw a 60% drop from $66 billion in 2000 to $26.6 billion in 2001.
  • In terms of international trade, high-tech products make up 20% of Puerto Rico’s total international export stock, with an estimated value of $2.2 billion.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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