Conference seeks answers to jobs question

Posted: Friday, April 08, 2005

With all the talk in Alaska about new mines and pipelines, people are starting to wonder where all of the workers will come from.

At a conference organized and hosted by Kenai Peninsula College for educators and industry to look at Alaska's future work force needs, the message was clear: thousands of workers will be needed if proposed oil, gas and mining projects in the state happen. And the workers need to be trained.

The conference, called Putting Alaska's Resources to Work, included input from industry and the state to bring Alaska industry and educators together to talk about those needs.

"This is something that hasn't been done before," said Gary Turner, KPC director.

In presentations and panel discussions, industry leaders told the education providers, when possible, industry will find trained and unskilled workers from Alaska. The rest will come from elsewhere.

In ongoing dialogue thr-oughout the course of the conference, educators conveyed their message, as well. Give the universities, colleges and other occupational training programs information on ways they can best prepare Alaskans for jobs in industry allowing as many Alaskans to be hired as possible.

"We are looking toward a lot of potential development in the next two to 10 years," Turner said at the conference. "(We want) to listen to what industry has to tell us."

In a presentation, Bill Popp, oil, gas and mining liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, cited countless oil, gas and mining projects in the state. There is potential for up to 29,000 possible jobs over the next decade, Popp said in his presentation.

Examples of forecasted employment numbers were provided during industry presentations.

For example, ConocoPhillips said during construction for the proposed North Slope to Chicago pipe-line, about 10,000 employees would be needed during the project's peak.

"We think this is going to be a great opportunity," said Joe Marushack, vice president of Alaska North Slope Gas Development for ConocoPhillips.

Bruce Jenkins, Chief Operating Officer for Northern Dynasty Mines, said the proposed mine near Iliamna would need 2,000 workers during its construction and 1,000 to run it after it is built.

It was a positive experience that opened a lot of people's eyes, Turner said. For example, industry leaders said they will have a strong need for project managers, he said, adding that while project manager training programs are offered, it has not been a focus.

He said this was the first step in the process of building a partnership between industry and education providers to prepare the work force.

On the second day of the conference, he said committees were formed and priorities of both groups stated to address each other's needs.

Turner said a follow-up conference will happen in the fall to assign the priorities to committees and start developing a plan to meet those needs.

"This is going to be a continuing process," he said.

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