Alaska construction industry launches recruitment effort

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Construction industry officials say the image of construction workers needs some rebuilding and they've chosen Fairbanks to launch a marketing effort.

The $70,000 campaign, including radio and television ads, is aimed at encouraging potential workers to seek trade-industry careers as electricians, architects and builders, among many others.

''The construction industry's a fantastic industry for young people to get into and we're trying to get the word out,'' said Jim Fergusson, spokesman for the Construction Industry Progress Fund. The fund was established by industry workers and management specifically for this campaign.

The CIPF started the campaign along with the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.

After decades of physical work, trade-industry workers traditionally retire in their mid-50s, officials said. The average age of Alaska workers in some crafts is considered to be over 50 years old.

Richard Tilly, president of the Interior Alaska Building Association, has noticed the graying of his industry.

''We want to find some people that are committed to getting into the trades because (when) the people that are 45, 50 and 60 years old retire, there needs to be people to replace us,'' Tilly told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Building homes may be hard work, but the rewards can be immediate.

''It has its downside,'' Tilly said. ''It's not for the fainthearted and it involves hard work.''

But Tilly says those who get into an apprenticeship program could be making $30 an hour in four to five years time.

John Knabe is training director for the UA Local 375 JATC, a plumbers and pipefitters training committee. He's heard talk of a shortage of workers but also of widespread unemployment.

''We have to turn away a lot of people every single year,'' Knabe said. ''We haven't seen the shortage yet.''

By some measures, interest in apprentice jobs with the unions are high. Apprentices will work as they learn, starting at about $15.50 an hour plus benefits. The pay increases quickly as workers gain experience.

Wade Stark, an instructor with the Fairbanks Alaska Carpenter Training Center, said about 100 people a year will come to the center and inquire about joining the program. Maybe 45 go through the whole application process but only about a dozen new students are accepted a year.

Still, in the past, even more people competed for those slots, said Stark, who applied three years in a row during the narrow application window, before being accepted in 1988.

''Back when I applied, there were a lot more people trying out for fewer spots,'' Stark said.

Interest in the trades seems to have dropped, he said. ''It's hard work but it pays awful good ... I think there's still people out there that like working outside, working with their hands.''

AGC programs already seek to catch students' attention beginning in the 5th grade and continuing through high school. Volunteers from local businesses visit with students in the classrooms and take them to work sites to get them excited about the industry.

The association wants kids to see construction as a viable career path, said AGC Executive Director Dick Cattanach. AGC programs are active in about 40 elementary classrooms in Fairbanks he said.

''We're a trade organization, we're not educators, but when we look ahead at the next decade and where our work force is going to come from, we realize there's ashortage,'' Cattanach said.

If the AGC and CIPF's marketing in Fairbanks is effective, it will be adopted statewide, said the groups communications consultant, Bruce Pozzi.

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