Workers install drywall and other material in a house needing repair in Haines following a landslide in 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Workers install drywall and other material in a house needing repair in Haines following a landslide in 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

State job satisfaction study shows homes are fun to design, not build

Drywall workers in Alaska among unhappiest workers in 79 professions, architects the happiest.

Drywall and ceiling tile inspectors in Alaska make more than $31 an hour, but are nearly as unhappy with their jobs as fast food cooks making half as much. Meanwhile, architects seem to be quite a bit happier with their jobs than anyone else.

At a time when job openings are near all-time highs statewide and nationally, a look at wages and turnover by occupation reveals some key elements to what makes workers happy and unhappy, according to a report by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The report tracked 79 specific jobs for calendar 2022 ranging from bicycle repairers to oil derrick operators to speech-language pathologists. It also highlights — literally — job satisfaction indicators that are surprising.

Dangerous and/or physically demanding work tends to have high turnover rates, according to the report — but there are notable exceptions.

“Explosives workers have one of the lowest turnover rates in the table, suggesting some people are especially interested in that job and those who take it, knowing full well what’s involved, are more likely to stick with it even though the wages aren’t high,” the study notes.

A chart shows turnover rates and average hourly wages for various jobs in Alaska in 2022, along with highlighting occupations where there was more or less turnover than expected given the wages paid. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

A chart shows turnover rates and average hourly wages for various jobs in Alaska in 2022, along with highlighting occupations where there was more or less turnover than expected given the wages paid. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

The report is the first of its kind in Alaska, and something the federal government and many states can’t track easily, said Dan Robinson, chief of the department’s Research and Analysis Section, who wrote the report for this month’s issue of the department’s Alaska Economic Trends magazine.

“Alaska is interesting that way because the data don’t really exist to do that with federal data,” he said. “The source for the data is unemployment insurance, records that employers have to file every quarter. But Alaska is one of very few states that actually collect occupations as part of that. Most states just say what industry the person works in and then their wages.”

The physical difficulty of drywall and ceiling jobs appears to be a primary factor in the high turnover rate of 82% annually — second highest behind fast food cooks at 84% — which is common in some other labor-intensive occupations despite relatively high pay, according to the study. A 100% turnover rate would mean an employer has to replace all of its workers in a specific profession every year.

“Drywall and ceiling tile installers handle and move materials, climb, lift, balance, and stoop,” the report notes. “Similar physical requirements characterize the jobs of highway maintenance workers; radio, cellular, and tower equipment installers and repairers; and carpenters. When the work is outside, as it is for several of those occupations, it can mean harsh weather on top of the physically demanding tasks, especially in Alaska.”

The jobs with the highest turnover (and their average hourly wages) were fast food cooks at 84% ($15.75/hr.); drywall and ceiling tile installers at 82% ($31.04/hr.); landscaping and groundskeeping at 71% ($21.04/hr.); highway maintenance at 67% ($27.94/hr.); and laborers/freight/stock/movers at 66% ($22.14/hr.)

“It seems there’s something satisfying about designing buildings,” the report notes.

At the other end of the spectrum were architects (except landscape and naval) at 8% ($48.93/hr.); architectural and civil drafters at 9% ($35.48/hr.); civil engineers at 12% ($52.39 an hour); pharmacists at 12% ($70.39/hr.); and loan officers at 14% ($36.43).

The report affirms that money isn’t everything — but it’s also not nothing — with other key factors in job satisfaction including a sense of craft or an ability to create. Both of those, according to the report, are among the occupations with a lower-than-expected turnover rate of 41% despite making an average of $13.67 an hour.

“Annual turnover for bartenders was less than half that of fast-food cooks despite the low average hourly wages. Tips are one likely reason,” the report notes. But additionally “bartending is particularly appealing to some, judging by the data. In addition to the social aspect, bartenders often seek special mixology training and many view their work as a craft.”

Robinson said the bottom line is “a lot of what makes a place desirable or not is specific to the employer.”

“A lot of it is the culture of the place, that those things are a little bit hard to define: ‘I like my co-workers,’ ‘I liked the level of supervision,’ ‘I feel like the work is meaningful,’” he said.

Alaska’s job openings of just below 9% in 2022 were above the national average of just below 7%. That gap of about 2% has been fairly consistent for the past two decades, although the percentage of openings in 2020 of just below 6% statewide and above 4% are closer to the historic pattern for that time period.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read