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Peninsula facing work-force crisis

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004

A perfect storm could be heading toward Alaska, and the eye of the storm may very well hit the Kenai Peninsula's labor force.

Bill Popp, the Kenai Peninsula Borough's oil and gas liaison, said Tuesday that a number of large Alaska industrial projects on the horizon may come together at the same time a situation that could leave peninsula workers out in the rain unless efforts are made now to increase education and training in the area.

Popp's remarks came during an overview of the Kenai Peninsula's oil, gas and mining prospects for the coming year. He said our major factors will shape the future of the area's economy.

"We're looking at some potential mega-projects ... all practically at the same time," Popp told the monthly meeting of the Alliance, a group of industry support companies and individuals.

Popp said three big projects include a proposed North Slope natural gas pipeline, the potential for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and possible large-scale gold mining across Cook Inlet at the Pebble prospect near Illiamna.

The final factor in Popp's "perfect storm" analogy is industry workers appear to be getting older, with the average age of petroleum engineers now at 49-years-old.

"There's a lot of gray hair in this room," he pointed out.

Because the Kenai Peninsula is a major base of operations for oil and gas development, Popp said all of these projects likely will impact the Cook Inlet region in some way.

"Cook Inlet will feel the effect," he said.

Popp said some estimates peg the number of jobs generated by these three projects to be as high 27,500 over the next decade. That's why efforts need to begin now to ramp up how much training is done in the area. If not, "We're going to have a hell of a problem on our hands meeting the work force development needs," Popp said.

Popp suggested the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the University of Alaska, the PRISM fire training center and industry groups themselves should begin the effort to make the peninsula a hub of industry training.

"We need a comprehensive plan," he said.

If nothing is done, he said, industry won't have any problem finding workers to fill the necessary jobs. However, those workers won't be coming from the peninsula, but likely from Outside.

"We have some very significant issues we're going to have to deal with in the next five to six years," he said. "... otherwise, we're going to see a lot of jobs lost for Alaskans."



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