Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is a retired teacher after becoming certified in Juneau after living there 20 years. Donn taught Adult Basic Education in the Anchorage community of Mt. View and in the Mat-Su Job Center between 2007-2017. He was named a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2013.
Earning a high school diploma or GED is the first step in creating a solid foundation for the future. Finding a job that doesn’t require a diploma or GED is near impossible, and universities, colleges, and trade or vocational schools require one or the other to attend.
By the time young Alaskans graduate high school, they are ready for something different. Living under their parent’s roof has gone on long enough, and they are ready for a job, a car, and freedom to make their own decisions.
They could join the military. Nothing wrong with that. They could attend the University of Alaska or go to a community college. They could do what many people seem to be afraid of doing right now – attend a trade or vocational school.
University, community college, trade school or vocational school? What type of education will help them to be the most successful, give them the best opportunities and the best jobs?
Laborer’s Apprenticeship Training
Alaska’s construction industry seems to be doing well. New homes are being built in The Valley, and the State continues to invest in infrastructure to support Alaskans and our national strategic military missions. Training in the construction trades is a natural path toward good-paying jobs doing productive work.
A new Laborer’s Construction Training School is located at 17805 Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak. Wes Canfield is the Apprentice Coordinator.
According to Canfield, Laborer’s construction training at the facility covers a wide variety of construction industry certifications as well as skills development. Mandatory certifications are provided for foundational training, as are specialty certifications and training: flagging, traffic control technician, mining safety and health administration (MSHA), OSHA 10/30, hazardous waste handling, asbestos abatement supervisor, hazardous paint handling, and CPR/1st aid/AED. Other classes include pipeline construction and maintenance, heavy civil work, highway construction, hoisting & rigging, demolition, site cleanup and environmental specialties including asbestos abatement, hazardous waste, silica hazards and paint handling. Skills development training: grade checking (surveying for construction), pipe laying for underground utilities, scaffold erecting, fencing, and all aspects of concrete work, as well as how to support the other crafts on jobs.
“These trainings include all aspects of construction that a Laborer is expected to do,” said Canfield.
Good jobs that will support a family.
“As a Laborer, the individual has an opportunity to learn construction work, literally from the ground up. Often individuals track from Apprentice to Journey Worker to Foreman to General Foreman. From there people can move into Superintendent positions while others choose to run their own companies. Some people find their strength in specific skills they can stick with while others enjoy the variety of duties and can truly do it all. Different pay rates apply to different jobs,” said Canfield.
So, what difference does Canfield see between his apprenticeship program and going to college?
“I like to think of the Laborers Apprenticeship program as construction college,” explained Canfield. “It is very much like earning a degree, allowing one to support themselves and their family, and become part of the middle class. The major difference is there are no up-front costs to go through the program, and you get paid for all the on-the-job training.”
Starting wage for a new apprentice is over $18/hour. After course completion, journey workers are paid $31/hour. Many jobs include a lot of overtime as well.
This program in the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development is based in Seward. With their ever evolving mission of training Alaskan’s for work demanded by Industry, the career and technical education center (CTE) AVTEC provides Alaska’s residents a means to an entry-level career in under a year.
The AVTEC Information Technology Department offers training: Business & Office Technology, Accounting Specialist, Administrative Assistant, Medical Administrative and Technology Office Assistant, as well as Information Technology. Welding and Diesel/Heavy Equipment training is offered through the Applied Technologies Department. Construction Technology, Plumbing and Heating, Refrigeration, Power Plant Operation, Industrial Electricity, and related studies are taught through the Energy & Building Technology Department. Master/Mate Marine Training and Qualified Member of Engine Department (QMED) Marine Oiler training are offered through the Alaska Maritime Training Center. Professional Cooking and Baking is available through the Alaska Culinary Academy.
“We need to do away with the out-dated and inaccurate notion that Career & Technical Education is for those who would not be successful attending a four-year university, as that would include the majority of our recent Alaska graduates,” explained instructor Deb Burdick-Hinton. “Nearly 90 percent of AVTEC students successfully complete their training program AND are placed in jobs within their training area within a year. Success breeds success, and many of our graduates continue to climb the career ladders within their professions, continuing their education for a lifetime. That often includes traditional university education. The hands-on minds-on, practical, highly technical, challenging training offered at AVTEC appeals to a diverse student population. Students who successfully complete their AVTEC training and earn industry credentials graduate with the confidence and motivation to continue achieving for a lifetime and serve as excellent role models to their peers, family, and community.”
The University of Alaska Anchorage started out as Anchorage Community College and consisted mostly of evening courses held at West High School. The primary campus was located in Fairbanks, which was originally established to help Alaskans rise to the challenge of statehood.
Over the years, the community colleges were absorbed into UA, but the range of offerings has expanded considerably. With campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Southeast, satellite campuses in Eagle River and Mat-Su Valley, and online courses, students virtually anywhere in the state can receive an education from the University of Alaska.
Diane Erickson is head of Academic Affairs at UA’s Mat-Su College, and she was very specific about finding career opportunities for young people just out of high school. “Really, what people need to look at is: What are they passionate about doing? What kind of a learner are they – and, what kind of a pathway do they want to get on?”
The array of options through the UA system is impressive, and opportunities for meaningful training at Mat-Su College are considerable. The academic track begins with Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AAS) degrees taking on average two years to complete. The AA degree combines broad studies in written communication, oral communication, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences, with elective coursework selected by the student. This degree provides broad exposure to systems of thought and inquiry, allows exploration of various disciplines and learning experiences, and provides a solid foundation for further study at the baccalaureate (BA or BS) level. AAS programs prepare students for work in a particular field of employment. Some AAS degrees are designed to provide a foundation for a specifically related baccalaureate degree. Students in these degree programs build knowledge and skills needed to carry out specific tasks while they develop abilities in the essential elements of communications, computation, and human relations.
Taking classes through a community college is a good choice for students who need time to explore a variety of disciplines before selecting a career pathway. It is also a great bridge for those who are starting as an older student or are returning to build needed skills.
Mat-Su College offers certificates in the Accounting, Computer Information and Office Systems (CIOS), Computer Systems Technology, General Business, Small Business Administration, Human Services, Veterinary Assistant, Paramedical Technology, Refrigeration & Heating, and Sustainable Energy. A review of the web page will provide further information regarding these programs.
Building a solid foundation for the future is worth the investment, no matter what type of postsecondary education you choose. Training for a trade or higher academic study is necessary for anyone who hopes to make a living wage in Alaska.
BY DONN LISTON (2018@DonnListon.com) August 3, 2017 ECHO Magazine
What is the better option for young Alaskans in today’s economy, going to college or learning a trade? For the generations of Americans who entered the workforce after World War II, higher education was only a consideration if you could afford it.
Otherwise, graduating high school meant it was time to go to work. Even without graduating high school a person could likely find a job and maneuver into a meaningful career by doing the same duties for the same employer for many years.
Today that dynamic has changed.
When job seekers enter the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Mat-Su Job Center, they are informed that not having a high school diploma or GED is a significant barrier toward gaining meaningful employment beyond minimum wage jobs. Furthermore, employers offering such jobs demand higher standards for employability even if a person has graduated from a traditional school or passed the GED tests.
It is recommended that job seekers earn a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). To earn the NCRC, one must complete WorkKeys Assessments in 1. Applied Math, 2. Workplace Documents, and 3. Graphic Literacy. This certification test is available at the Job Center.
So, more school, college, or special training are the options.
Alaska lost 2,100 jobs, and the unemployment rate declined by 0.1 Percentage points in January. Over the 12 months ending in March, Alaska lost 9,000 jobs while the unemployment rate remained at 6.5 percent. This is an economy demanding skilled workers. There is no demand for minimum wage jobs because they assure poverty.
The Alaska workforce is definable.
At the beginning of this year, Alaska had a civilian labor workforce of 360,700 people. Of those, 337.300 were employed, with 23,400 unemployed (6.5% unemployment) according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By June the Alaska labor workforce had increased to 367,000 with 341,900 employed and 25,100 unemployed (6.8% unemployment). Seasonal employment opportunities increased both the number of people in the workforce and the numbers working.
Anchorage had 202,500 of those civilian workers in January, with 189,600 of them actually employed. By June Anchorage had a civilian workforce of 205.3 with 192,300 working.
Those are the civilian jobs available and the numbers of people actually working.
Alaska’s military workforce is around 20,000 and joining the military is an excellent way to gain meaningful training leading to a career in and after the military. Working and being in the military or the reserves can be a viable career option, as well. Joining the military and returning to Alaska during or following service is a career path many Alaskans have taken.
So, if you are a parent hoping your soon-to-graduate son or daughter might train for a career that will be in demand in Alaska, what options are best and how do you prepare for such an occupation.
Trade School vs. Apprenticeship
If the chief priority in pursuing higher education is to find a good job, then trade or vocational schools are where you should be looking. Trade Schools focus on preparing students to enter the workforce upon completion of the course. A good Trade School would balance conceptual and practical knowledge.
I have known Alaskans who have attended specialized training schools in other states for jobs they wanted to do in Alaska upon their completion of such training.
Trade School curriculum leaves out a lot of generic theory and emphasizes practical training. Classes tend to be more shop-based than lecture-based. In fact, in many vocational and technical schools, the classroom environment actually resembles the workplace; even equipment and methodologies resemble those that are used in that particular industry.
Trade schools usually consist of smaller batches of students, most of who are focused on a specialized trade. This concentrated stream is instrumental in forging meaningful networks that are likely to last all through your career. It also ensures that you get personalized attention in honing the skills that you already possess.
Reports show employers have been showing an increasing preference for students from technical schools. Since they already possess the skills and technical know-how required for the job, employers feel that they would save considerably on training costs.
Another great reason you may want to consider attending a trade school is the huge cost and time savings involved. Since courses are of shorter duration than universities, you spend less money and time studying. It would also allow you to start earning much faster, almost 2-3 years earlier than if you’d attended a university. Your total savings could amount to 60-70 percent of what you’d spend at university.
The Department of Labor reports that “apprenticeship growth in Alaska continues to increase; there are more than 60 registered apprenticeship programs with 2,257 apprentices and 268 program sponsors. Real opportunities for new apprenticeship programs exist in the areas of health care, tourism, oil and gas, mining, forestry, transportation, and construction. With few exceptions, any business that requires highly skilled employees – a small two-person business to the largest corporations – can benefit from apprenticeship.”
There are benefits from businesses setting up such apprentice training options, too. Employers can expect decreased employee turnover with in-house apprenticeship training, with increased productivity and knowledge transfer from on-the-job learning. Apprentice workers also produce while learning the employer receives a high return on investment while tailoring the workforce to specific expectations.
To gain this benefit, employers must 1. Provide a safe workplace, 2. Provide on-the-job training and supervised work experience, 3. Establish a progressive pay schedule, 4. Document the training progress and 5. Support the related instruction.
That is the overview of opportunities and challenges of training for meaningful careers in today’s economy. Next week we will take a look at some Alaska-specific options, including an apprenticeship program, the AVTEC program and the University of Alaska.