Training for the future: UAA helping Alaskans fill job market voids

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

The University of Alaska Anchorage is providing new workers to fill voids in several labor markets identified by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development as areas experiencing high demand, said the university's provost at a Jan. 3 Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center.

Specifically, UAA Provost Michael Driscoll noted health care, engineering, education and other fields, citing state DOL statistics that place education and health services as the third-highest employment sector in Alaska at 12 percent.

"UAA is the University of Alaska's health university," Driscoll said. "We've taken that role with great seriousness."

In partnership with industry, private funders and the state, UAA offers more than 90 programs throughout Alaska in health care-related areas, Driscoll said.

Half of them are distance-learning programs, he said, meaning they allow students to participate without coming into a classroom.

Partnerships with local health facilities also ensure that students all over Alaska can gain real-world experience.

"A nurse needs clinical experiences to learn the job, and so we have lots of partnerships with local health facilities to make sure that happens," he said.

The $46.5 million, 65,321-square-foot Health Sciences Building will be opening this fall, Driscoll said. The portion of the two-phased project that will be completed will house nursing, a laboratory, a medical program being undertaken in partnership with schools in several other states, and a physician assistant program, Driscoll said.

Driscoll expects that UAA will add more programs for nurse practitioners in the coming years.

Moving on to ways in which the university will continue to supply hires to the oil and gas industry, Driscoll said a bond project would result in the construction of a career and technical education center at Kenai Peninsula College.

The center will offer programs in process technology and instrument technology, which would fill fundamental positions for running pipelines, pumping and drilling facilities, transmission facilities, and water treatment plants, among others, Driscoll said.

"The demand is there. The programs are strongly supported by industry with significant gifts in the last few years by Chevron, BP and other oil industry to allow us to produce more graduates from these associate's programs to work in the future," he said.

On the education front, Driscoll said Alaska needs "more, better teachers."

"Not that we don't have great teachers, but certainly turnover in rural regions, and growth in urban regions, requires more teachers and we want to make sure Alaskans get those jobs," he said.

Driscoll demonstrated what he referred to as a "career pathway planning tool," which is a pamphlet that shows a prospective student the classes he or she should take in high school, and what careers he or she might be able to get into with various degrees.

The education-related pamphlet, which Driscoll included in his presentation to the crowd, shows a variety of recommended classes for a high school student including English composition, oral communication and world languages.

It suggests that a graduate with an associate's degree might be capable of a career in early childhood development, where someone with a bachelor's degree might be able to work in early childhood education.

Driscoll also discussed engineering, saying it is one of the fastest-growing fields at UAA, with more than 800 students enrolled at all levels.

Across all fields, more than 2,000 students graduated in May 2010, Driscoll said, and nearly eight of every 10 graduates stayed in the state. Some 75 percent of UAA graduates are trained to fill high-demand positions, Driscoll said.

UAA is the "largest provider of workforce education and training in the state," Driscoll said.

The school's performance in increasing the available pool of labor for state DOL-defined "high demand job areas" is tracked by the Legislature in an annual report, Driscoll said.

"We're doing very well in that regard," he said.

Sean Manget can be reached at

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