The return of the apprenticeship

The commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development spoke about the department’s efforts to expand its apprenticeship programs during Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Speaking to a smaller-than-usual crowd in the ballroom of the Hangar on the Wharf, Commissioner Heidi Drygas told Juneau business owners that apprenticeships are no longer just for construction — a common misconception, she said. Moreover, these programs might help connect local businesses with employees.

“The bottom line is that there is a lot that the Department of Labor can do to assist you in finding qualified labor for you businesses,” she told the crowd, which filled about three quarters of the ballroom’s seats.

The department now has trained “apprenticeship specialists” who, as their titles imply, specialize in matching workers with jobs on which they’ll be able to train. Though apprenticeships are most commonly associated with construction work, Drygas said that the department is now placing people in apprenticeships in the healthcare and mining fields as well.

This is important because while construction jobs statewide are declining, the number of jobs in healthcare is on the rise, and the department expects this trend to continue, Drygas said.

“With a more limited pool of money going into construction, we are doubling down to make sure that Alaskans get the jobs that are available,” she said.

She urged any Juneau business interested in taking on an apprentice to reach out to the DOL. During her presentation, she also invoked business owners to push state lawmakers to develop a “comprehensive fiscal plan” before the legislative session ends.

Drygas warned that the Legislature can’t cut its way out of its precarious budget situation. According to Drygas, the only way the state can close its nearly $4 billion budget gap is by using Permanent Fund earnings, exploring “broad-based revenue solutions” (an income tax) and, yes, doing a little bit of cutting, too.

“Cuts alone are not going to get us there,” she told the audience, which filled about three quarters of the seats in the ballroom of the Hangar on the Wharf. “We need to use the Permanent Fund earnings fund, and we need new revenue even if that is a difficult pill to swallow.”

• Contact Sam DeGrave at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com or at (907) 523-2279.

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