They could have hung a sign out front saying, "Wanted: A steady stream of new skilled workers in Alaska."
Scores of state officials, industry leaders and key employers got together Jan. 30 in Anchorage for an all-day conference to address current and projected labor shortages for Alaskans in the construction, operation and maintenance trades.
Attendees focused on the overall construction economy, labor market information and labor demographics, such as an aging workforce, said Mike Andrews, director of Alaska Works Partnership, a nonprofit industry-supported training advocacy group.
He said the state needs to develop new ways of invigorating the Alaska work force, because a variety of factors are putting pressure on employers.
"It's a combination of baby boomers who are retiring, out-of-state workers who are taking construction jobs and young people who are not interested in jobs in the industry," Andrews said.
The prime reason for the conference, he said, was to get the myriad agencies, employers and educators
and others affected by the issue to begin taking a "comprehensive" approach in thinking about the future.
Dick Cattanach, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska, said the state has a need for about 1,000 new construction workers a year and the vacancies are spread across all areas of the industry.
"Obviously you've got to start at the entry level because we're not getting journeymen migrating up here," he said.
"So we are probably at the point where we
have to grow our own."
Cattanach pointed to a statistic mentioned during the conference by a
representative from the International Union of Operating Engineers local 302.
The average age of the union's workers in Alaska is 47 and employees can retire
at age 52, he said.
"That's a big union," he said. "There's a lot of experience there, and ... we could
lose a lot of very talented people."
University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton agreed with the conference theme of
getting the pieces of the system to fit more closely together, and he said most of
the solution begins with education.
"We've got to have 'K through 12,' we've got to have the university, and the
industry, all working together and talking with each other to get these programs
moving along," he asserted.
When asked if Alaska is facing a workforce crisis, Hamilton said it boils down to a
"great need" of putting Alaskans into the top Alaska positions.
"We've seen a lot of big construction booms in the past, and lots of people made
some money," he said. "But Alaskans made money more in the service industry.
They didn't hold the really important jobs.
"The wealth went outside and Alaskans didn't maintain that training and
experience to continue the boom past the boom part. We want to do it better this
time," Hamilton said.
Also, state labor officials with the newly created Division of Business Partnerships
are taking an aggressive tack in approaching the future job market. They've
launched an ambitious new "Workforce Investment Strategy" program targeting
responses from several key areas of the economy, including the construction
The intent of the grant-making program is to solicit ideas for high-quality job
training projects including internships; on-the-job training; entrepreneurship;
customized industry-specific training; employer-linked training; and projects
related to community economic development.
Grants will be made available to private sector businesses, non-profits, Alaska
Native organizations, local government agencies, training providers and labor
Information about the program and application packages can be found online at
With all the ideas, opinions and statistics bubbling out the Anchorage conference,
AGCA's Cattanach said it is likely there will be a similar, but more intense session
later this year.
"We need to internalize all the information we heard," he said. "Then we'll sit down
and decide where we go from here.
"We'll start gathering more data, and then get together again and be a lot more
specific about some strategies ahead," Cattanach said.
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