“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.”