$20 million slated for pipeline training

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

Federal dollars promoting the training and hiring of Alaskans to construct a gas pipeline has state officials and representatives of Alaska's trade organizations talking about how they can spend the money. Some say, however, the money is not enough and may come too late.

The Alaska pipeline construction training program was one of several provisions related to building the $20 billion North Slope natural gas pipeline that were included in the federal military construction bill for fiscal year 2005. The bill was signed into law Oct. 14.

The appropriations act authorized a $20 million grant — with up to $3 million designated for building a training facility in Fairbanks — from the Secretary of Labor to the state Labor Department's Alaska Workforce Investment Board for training Alaskans.

The grant is authorized to be available two years prior to the expected start date of the pipeline construction.

Greg O'Claray, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said $20 million is not enough money to train the number of Alaskans needed for a pipeline construction project that would meet Gov. Frank Murkowski's 90 percent Alaska-hire initiative.

O'Claray said additional funding will have to come from the natural gas producers and other private investors to train an Alaska work force that will be ready to work when the construction begins. The funding will be used to expand existing training programs and start new ones specific to the pipeline construction project, he said.

TransCanada PipeLines Ltd., a Canadian company applying to build the pipeline, estimated it would employ between 6,800 and 8,600 people at the peak of constructing the Alaska portion of its proposed pipeline, according to TransCanada's Tony Palmer.

Palmer, who is vice president of Alaska business development for TransCanada, addressed members of the state Legislative Budget and Audit Committee and state Senate Resources Committee on Oct. 14.

At this point, the estimated employment numbers provided by TransCanada are the most comprehensive work force estimates available to assess the state's training needs, O'Claray said.

Executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO Jim Sampson agreed that the $20 million federal grant is not enough to train Alaskans for history's largest private construction project.

"That's a good start," he said. "It's not so much the money; it is how you spend the money."

Proper training requires time in the classroom and on the job — a process that exceeds the two-year period when the federal grant could be available to fund training, Sampson said.

The proposed training facility in Fairbanks would provide a place to train people during a typical six-week training course. Sampson said he recommends construction of a 15,000- to 16,000-square-foot facility that would include housing units for people traveling to attend the course. Such a facility likely would cost between $4 million and $5 million to build, he said.

Once people finish a training course, there has to be jobs available for them to complete the federally certified apprenticeship program in their trade, Sampson said. He added that these apprenticeship programs require three to four years of job experience.

To ensure there will be enough Alaskans available to build the pipeline, Sampson said the state government must start requiring all contractors of publicly funded construction projects to hire apprentices.

Sampson also recommended the state include in its oil- and gas-lease agreements with producers a requirement to hire apprentices when operating on the leased land.

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