2.  | 
  3. Industry
  4.  | 
  5. Education
  6.  | Resource Development Council Explores Workforce Solutions

Resource Development Council Explores Workforce Solutions

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Education, Featured, Government, News, Nonprofits

Shareen Crosby (left) moderates a panel at the Resource Development Council conference also featuring (left to right) Cathy Muñoz, Alaska Safety Alliance Executive Director Cari-Ann Carty, Lori Davey, and Denali Commission Director of Programs Jocelyn Fenton.

Alaska Business

Alaska’s labor pool, already spread thin, will need added depth to accommodate an anticipated surge in building projects. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has pumped $5.7 billion into the state so far, and Shareen Crosby is trying to maximize the impact. As the infrastructure investment coordinator within the Office of the Governor, Crosby figures about one-quarter of her attention is occupied by workforce concerns. She asks, “If you don’t have the workers to do it, what’s the point, right?”

Focus on Solutions

The office of infrastructure was created in response to enactment of the IIJA in 2021. Crosby has been on the job since May.

“Between permitting and workforce, those are the two biggest obstacles,” she says. “It’s surprising how much of my time is taken up by working on those two things.” Housing and childcare are also factors in the workforce equation.

To focus on solutions, Crosby moderated a panel at the 44th annual conference of the Resource Development Council of Alaska, held in Anchorage last week. Titled “Leading the Way for the Next Generation,” panelists described some initiatives that are underway to fill the labor pipeline, both for IIJA-related projects and for every other employer.

Current Issue

Alaska Business May 2024 Cover

May 2024

“I think we need to be more aggressive in getting information to our schools, to our secondary students, about career opportunities and the pathways to get there in Alaska,” said Cathy Muñoz, the acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD).

Reaching high school students is part of a $5 million marketing campaign that Governor Mike Dunleavy has budgeted for. In addition to showing Alaskan kids what opportunities are available close to home, Muñoz says the campaign will also market the state to Outside workers, aiming to reverse a population out-migration trend.

To lure workers, employers may need to offer sweeter compensation. “We have to be competitive with our wages,” said panelist Lori Davey, Alaska manager for Bedrock Petroleum Consultants, a contract support firm. “I hear a lot that our wages are maybe 10 percent higher than the Lower 48, but our cost of living is about 25 percent higher.”

Furthermore, the IIJA has everyone competing for the limited pool of civil engineers, electricians, heavy equipment operators, support crew, and others. Says Crosby, “All the states are vying for the same workers, so it’s not like Alaska is unique.”

Looking for talent beyond national borders, Muñoz says DOLWD is standing up an office of citizenship assistance to welcome immigrant and refugee workers. She also aims to strengthen partnerships with the military, so veterans can apply their training in civilian contexts.

Transferable skills will figure greatly in workforce solutions, according to Davey. “They were having a hard time finding analysts in Norway. They didn’t have a lot of data analysts in their market, so they started looking for transferable skills,” she said. “They found high school math teachers and started to attract them to the industry.”

Help Is on the Way

The theme of the 44th annual Alaska Resources Conference, held at the Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center in Anchorage, was “Alaska’s Resources: Leading the Way.”

Tiffany Whited | Alaska Business

For a more comprehensive strategy, the Alaska Workforce Investment Board is updating the statewide cross-industry plan in time for the Alaska Legislature to consider it during the next session. In 2024, the Anchorage School District will implement its part of the workforce solution by launching its “career academy” model at every high school. One way the private sector can help is by partnering with schools.

By mid-2024, the infrastructure office will find out if it gets a major federal grant from the Economic Development Administration within the US Department of Commerce. Crosby explains that the Recompete Pilot Program targets 25-to-54-year-olds in economically distressed communities: “Gets them back in the workforce, excited about what they’re doing. Potentially new training opportunities, apprenticeships.” Her office was part of a coalition that applied for a $1 million Phase 1 grant to set up the program in Alaska. Phase 2 is a $50 million grant to implement it, and Crosby says the state should know next summer if that money is on the way.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Labor has been supporting workforce development in Palmer for years through its Job Corps Center. In June, the center was rededicated in honor of the late Congressman Don Young, who was instrumental in bringing the agency to Alaska.

More recently, Crosby says Job Corps has been gearing its offerings toward IIJA projects. “They are calling their program the Infrastructure Academy,” she says, “which makes me really happy.”

Alaska Business May 2024 cover
In This Issue

Making History

May 2024

The track of oil and gas development in Alaska shows the footprints of bold companies and hard-working individuals who shaped the industry in the past and continue to innovate today. The May 2024 issue of Alaska Business explores that history while looking forward to new product development, the energy transition for the fishing fleet, and the ethics of AI tools in business.

Share This