Apprenticeships key to Alaska Hire and economic growth

Apprenticeships key to Alaska Hire and economic growth

Heidi Drygas | Commissioner
Alaska Economic Trends | March 2016 Publication

Recently, there have been many news stories about declining oil prices and how Alaska Hire rates declined through 2014. Our state’s economy is changing as the oil and construction sectors shrink relative to the health care and tourism sectors. Improving our Alaska Hire rate in these economic circumstances requires taking successful apprenticeship training models in the construction industry and applying them to growth industries like health care.

In addition, we need to remain vigilant to improve Alaska Hire in the construction and oil and gas industries. Though they are not projected to grow next year, these industries will continue to be a vital part of our economy and represent a signifi cant number of our state’s high-paying jobs. Fortunately, as this month’s Trends illustrates, registered apprenticeship is growing in Alaska and that presents an important opportunity to achieve our Alaska Hire goals and strengthen our middle class.

Registered apprenticeship is an age-old training model that consists of on-the-job training coupled with related technical or classroom instruction. In the United States, apprenticeship has long been the foundation of training our construction workforce. However, this training model is not limited to construction. Other countries like Switzerland and Germany have approximately half the youth unemployment of the United States, largely because their robust apprenticeship programs offer a path to the middle class for youth in many fields.

Considering that three-quarters of Alaskans will not obtain a college degree, it is essential that we have training opportunities for all Alaskans. Gone are the days when vocational and career education are viewed as substandard forms of education; to the contrary, some of our highest-paying and most skilled occupations are the result of vocational education, including registered apprenticeship.

And due to recent policy innovations, it is increasingly common to complete a registered apprenticeship while earn-ing credit toward a college degree. This model is extremely promising because it offers a path to college completion with-out a crushing debt load.

A wide variety of Alaska employers already use registered apprenticeships successfully. Construction firms such as Doyon Associated and Brice Construction help manage registered apprentice-ship programs through Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees with the building trades. NANA’s Red Dog mine operates a model registered apprentice-ship program for millwrights and other workers. The Alaska Native Medical Center, Bristol Bay Housing Authority, and the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation all manage registered apprenticeship programs. My department is working in partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Southcentral Foundation to expand registered apprenticeships for behavioral health and medical office occupations.

It is no coincidence that Alaska has some of the highest median wages, highest labor force participation rates, and low-est rates of income inequality of any state: Our apprenticeship programs are an integral part of a workforce development system focused on a strong middle class. But we can’t rest on our laurels: Expansion of registered apprenticeship is necessary to achieve our Alaska Hire objectives.

As this month’s Trends illustrates, the benefits of registered apprenticeship are clear — higher employment rates, higher wages, and higher rates of Alaska Hire. Registered apprenticeships are training workers in a variety of industries from health care to the construction trades that will build the gas pipeline. With sound public policies that support apprenticeship, we can sustain our middle class and improve Alaska Hire.