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Alaska Expects Skilled Worker Shortage

Tue November 20, 2018 - West Edition #24
Associated Press


Several major projects are gearing up in the oil, gas and construction sectors in Alaska, requiring thousands of workers in the next few years.
Several major projects are gearing up in the oil, gas and construction sectors in Alaska, requiring thousands of workers in the next few years.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) Alaska could soon face a labor shortage in some of its key industries, state workforce development officials said.

Several major projects are gearing up in the oil, gas and construction sectors in the state, requiring thousands of workers in the next few years, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported.

But the state has lost more than 10,000 jobs since a local recession began in 2015, with the majority occurring in oil, gas and construction.

"We've got this sort of perfect storm of challenges where we have a downturn in our economy; we have an aging workforce, including oil and gas workers; we have stagnant wages in Alaska; and there's a boom going on in the Lower 48, pulling a lot of our workers [away]," said Heidi Drygas, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

While Alaska lost about 6,900 workers in the construction and oil and gas industries during the downturn, laborers in those sectors were at a premium in some areas of the continental U.S.

Drygas said she is already hearing from some union leaders that skilled laborers are becoming hard to find. Alaska needs to encourage young people to look at careers in those trades and invest in training programs, she said.

"We have all this work going on on the North Slope. We have a boom in military construction in the Interior and other Interior build-out projects," Drygas said. "We have an expansion of mining at Fort Knox and Kensington, Donlin Gold looks like it's going to come online, and they're all happening at the same time."

Those jobs will be filled, but companies might recruit outside Alaska, state economist Karinne Wiebold said. Historically, more than 20 percent of nonresident workers have made up the state's construction sector, she said. The oil and gas sector has had outsiders totaling nearly 30 percent of the workforce.

"We have to invest in young Alaskans and in training, ensuring that we have Alaskans first in line to work in these jobs," Drygas said.