Industry and Educators Convene for Workforce Development Solutions to Labor Shortage
The Alaska Vocational and Technical Education Center in Seward is one of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s tools to fill the demand for skilled workers.
A two-day conference on workforce development opened in Anchorage with a well-grounded assumption. “There’s no need to dwell on the challenge which we are all acutely aware of,” said Dirk Craft, executive director of the Alaska Workforce Investment Board (AWIB).
Workforce Development Convening
Thus, Craft stated the facts as briefly as possible: “Our current workforce is aging, a concerning number of our youth are disconnected from employment opportunities, and job vacancies have reached unprecedented levels.”
The result is a labor shortage, which state economist Dan Robinson defines as “an unusual relationship in terms of the number of job openings and the number of job applicants.”
Robinson told conference attendees that, because of out-migration, “Alaska has lost a meaningful chunk of its working-age population; Oregon and Washington have not, so part of this is unique to Alaska.”
To address this issue, Governor Mike Dunleavy directed AWIB to “reboot” old, inactive workforce development plans. The board is beginning the process with the conference, called the Workforce Development Convening, meant to not simply recognize the problem but to identify next steps, according to Craft.
As part of the process, AWIB is assessing the roles and contributions of schools, government agencies, and employers. With that information, the board will define the vision and priorities for workforce development, which is defined as career awareness, exploration, and preparation for students starting in kindergarten, the 18-to-24 age bracket after high school, and even mid-career adults.
Opening the conference, Craft said, “We’re here to address the pressing workforce challenges that confront Alaska by listening to industry and responding accordingly.” After hearing from industry representatives on the first day, representatives from Alaska’s training providers and educators had a chance to respond.
“We want industry to lead the conversation. Each of Alaska’s economic sectors are represented,” says Acting Labor Commissioner Cathy Muñoz. She notes that the conference featured representation from the hospital association, the construction industry, tourism, transportation, and oil and gas.
King Tech High School centers on career and technical education, a model that the Anchorage School District will adapt as “career academies” at all its high schools starting in fall 2024.
Robinson adds, “The idea of listening to industry seems so smart to me because they may have already started shifting their focus. Instead of saying, ‘We’re going to post a position and assume we’ll get ten good applicants for a high-wage position,’ they may say, ‘We’ve tried that. We’re not getting any applicants, so now we’re going to change our minimum qualifications and start doing on-the-job training.’ New things.”
According to Muñoz, industry representatives can answer some basic questions: “What are the skills that you need now and in the future? Where are the training gaps that you’re seeing? And how will we work together to galvanize success?”
Using input on industry needs and training resources, AWIB will produce a cross-industry workforce plan. When completed by mid-January or February, the information gathered will inform grant writing to apply for federal funds. It will also be presented to the Alaska legislature to consider any policy changes during the next regular session.
“These challenges represent opportunities for us to innovate, collaborate, and lead the way in shaping a more vibrant and prosperous Alaska workforce that thrives at all levels, both geographic and socioeconomic,” said Craft.