Businesses, schools partner on maritime job skills

JUNEAU — In coastal communities throughout Alaska, several organizations are working together to prepare more Alaskans for jobs in the maritime industry.


The industry needs employees with a wide-range of skills: catching and processing fish, designing boats, welding, engine work and more.

A working group that includes several state agencies, the University of Alaska and other training and industry groups are trying to implement the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan, which outlines the need for employees in a range of maritime fields.

The Homer Marine Trades Association, an advertising collective with more than 70 members from the Kachemak Bay region, worked with Homer High School and Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus this year to offer new programs meant to help interest students and others in marine trade careers.

“We just took on this education realizing we didn’t have a workforce,” said Matt Alward, a fisherman and owner of a fishing net business who is part of the association.

At Homer High School, home of the mariners, about 32 students attended at least one of six Friday afternoon classes on marine trades jobs, Alward said. The series started with a general overview of different fields, and included presentations about fishing, diesel mechanics, boat building, marine electronics and nets. Presenters from each field also talked about what an entry-level job in those fields paid, what skills were needed, and how an employee might progress.

In Ketchikan, Vigor Alaska has spearheaded its pre-apprentice program to bring high school students to the shipyard it runs to learn several skills. When one past participant, Kaila Del Rosario, graduates this spring, she’ll likely go to work at the shipyard, said Doug Ward, director of shipyard development.

That’s just the latest of Vigor’s efforts to develop a local workforce for the shipyard, and Ward said the company has worked on its training plan for more than a decade.

The workforce development plan is a step toward scaling up those local efforts to regional and statewide initiatives, Julie Decker told Legislators during a February presentation. Decker is executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which helped write the plan.

The plan was released last spring, and since then, the partnering groups have been working on implementing it.

Aggie Fouts, the maritime workforce coordinator tasked with helping bring together the different players, said the focus this spring was on garnering legislative support.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, sponsored a resolution supporting the plan. That passed the House and passed out of the Senate Labor and Commerce committee, but did not get scheduled for a vote in the Senate as the session wound down.

“The reason we’re getting the support is it’s really recognized that workforce development is a really key point in economic development in our state,” Fouts said.

Fouts said the group is now working on getting organized and fundraising.

The group is also planning to work with other industries on workforce development, such as mining, oil and gas, and others, Fouts said.