Natives learn the drill

Program offers construction industry training

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2006


  Alaska Works Partnership trainee Les Kayoukluk cuts a flashing slot as partner Michael Gessells steadies the cabin log. Photo by Phil Hermanek

Alaska Works Partnership trainee Les Kayoukluk cuts a flashing slot as partner Michael Gessells steadies the cabin log.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

Out in the woods, 11 miles off Oilwell Road in Ninilchik is an unlikely place to learn fractions, but that was exactly the windfall received by one of 11 young men participating in a carpentry academy there last week.

“Before this, I couldn’t do fractions, I couldn’t read a tape measure,” said William Davis III, 21, of Palmer, who was helping to build a log cabin at the Ninilchik Tribal Council youth camp.

Davis was among the 19- to 23-year-old Alaska Natives learning a trade through an Alaska Works Partnership construction academy.

The second such academy conducted on the Kenai Peninsula, the men are learning carpentry skills ranging from reading plans to safely using hand and power tools while building the cabin, which will be used for cultural education at the Native camp.

Last year, Alaska Works participants built a bath house at the camp.

Mike Tucker, one of the instructors for Alaska Works, said the experience level of the participants ranges from none at all to some who have helped build houses in their Native villages.

Another instructor, Randy Alvarez, who is a journeyman carpenter, said that often a contractor comes to build homes or clinics in the villages and “would love to hire local kids, but they don’t have the training.”

Alvarez said the contractor also would like to teach the building trades to the young Natives, but simply cannot take the time and still get the work done.

“This program puts some of their own people to work in the villages,” Alvarez said. “These guys get a little training so they can do it themselves.”

Prior to going out to the job site, the 11 men attended classroom training in Anchorage, learning Occupational Safety and Health Administration topics such as ladder and scaffold safety, hazard recognition, personal protection equipment use and learning to use hand tools and power tools properly and safely.

They also learned to read building plans and learned to build their own saw horses before heading to Ninilchik for two weeks on the job.

Davis said that before signing up for the Alaska Works training, he helped a friend’s dad build houses in the Palmer area as a volunteer.

“I’m trying to get as much experience as I can,” Davis said.

His goals include joining a union apprenticeship program and one day starting up his own construction business.

He said he has already learned “quite a bit” from the carpentry academy, and the training has given him more confidence.

Because not enough people wanted their computers fixed when Les Kayoukluk, 23, wanted to fix them, he didn’t make enough money as a computer technician — his first career choice.

Despite having attended college for six months learning that skill, he moved to plan B — carpentry.

Kayoukluk has worked for various construction companies in Anchorage as a general laborer for 1 1/2 years, and now hopes to make a career as a carpenter.

His younger brother, Edward Kayoukluk, 20, also has about 1 1/2 years experience helping remodel and reconstruct homes for the elderly through a Young Men’s Initiative program with the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage.

Since joining the Alaska Works program, the younger Kayoukluk said he has learned to read plans and learned layout for how to set up a prefabricated cabin.

“It’s like toys. It’s like building with blocks,” he said.

His goal is to work construction in the summer and information technology in the winter.

“I hope to have money for college and go for my MBA,” he said.

So far, Edward Kayoukluk said he has gotten a lot out of the carpentry academy.

“It’s been a good learning experience, working with a big crew of guys,” he said.

The Alaska Works project in Ninilchik is sponsored by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council with a youth initiative grant from the Denali Commission, according to Tucker.

He said Alaska Works has been training young people all over Alaska for four or five years, getting them into apprenticeship programs in carpentry, electrical, plumbing and painting trades.

Housing is provided to those in training and each of the 11 men in the carpentry academy was provided with a starter set of carpentry tools.

“I hope to get them into an apprenticeship with construction companies and get them entry level positions (paying) in the $14 range,” Tucker said.

“It’s an opportunity for the young guys to get out and see if they like construction,” he said.

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