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Construction worker numbers drop

Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Construction is the fastest growing employment market in Alaska, and the amount of skilled workers in the state may not keep up with growth, said Richard Cattanach, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska at Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

AGC is a trade organization for commercial contractors.

Almost $6 billion is projected to be spent on construction in Alaska in 2005, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, or ISER.

The oil and gas industry is projected to have the highest amount of construction spending in the state this year with defense spending being the highest in the public sector, according to ISER.

Cattanach said 5.7 percent of the work force in Alaska is construction.

But they project there will be a shortage of a 6 percent shortage this year, compounding every year for the next decade, he said.

"There are going to be a lot of jobs in construction," Cattanach said, adding that growth in the sector and retirees will cause a labor shortage unless they can develop new strategies to recruit workers.

Cattanach said the state of Alaska has a target of 90 percent hire of Alaskans on construction jobs, and others, which they have to meet. Right now, they are at about 83 percent Alaskan hire, he said.

About 1,100 new workers are needed per year to accommodate growth in the industry, retirees and to replace imported workers, he said. This is going to be difficult because there are not enough people in the economy to meet those needs, Cattanach said.

He said this is a critical situation.

"If you don't have enough laborers, you have to raise the price of labor to attract more," he said. "That's just going to drive up the cost of construction for everybody."

To solve the labor shortage, he said there are educational programs at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary level.

The National Center for Construction Education and Research, or NCCER, has a program to give people the first level of education about construction in various crafts, he said. NCCER is affiliated with the University of Florida.

AGC has a "build-up" program aimed at elementary schools to keep students interested in construction as a potential career, he said.

Both of these programs have been implemented in Alaska school districts, he said. Cattanach added that there have not been as many programs implemented in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as they would like to see.

The University of Alaska has a new construction management program, he said.

"We don't have a deep well to dip into to get new workers," he said.

For more information on construction jobs, visit www.-careersinconstruction.org.

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