Expanding apprenticeship in rural Alaska

  • By HEIDI DRYGAS
  • Wednesday, February 22, 2017 9:41am
  • Opinion

We are proud to announce a new statewide training initiative: the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program. Over the past year, the Calista Corporation, in partnership with the state and federal government, has built a Registered Apprenticeship program to train Alaskans for careers on deck, in the engine room, and in the galley, earning both a salary and an industry-recognized credential. Working with a group of companies including Brice Marine and Yukon River Towing, we are expanding career and training opportunities for Alaskans in the maritime industry.

For many years, apprenticeships in the building trades have trained a world class construction workforce in Alaska. More recently, businesses have taken that proven apprenticeship model and applied it to growing industries like health care and maritime. Calista Corporation is a large, diversified Alaska Native Corporation with construction, maritime and many other subsidiaries. Calista has a mission that includes both corporate growth as well as shareholder development. With this new maritime apprenticeship, Calista is establishing new pathways for its shareholders to earn post-high school credentials while earning a living wage. The state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development is supporting this program through classes at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, or AVTEC, in Seward because it helps meet Gov. Bill Walker’s goal of “ensuring the sustainability of rural Alaska, particularly Alaska Native communities.”

Work on the water is central to the way of life for many Alaskans, including those living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. For millennia, Alaskans have fished, and more recently Alaskans have worked in shipping and resource development, relying on marine transportation. But the maritime industry isn’t just important to Western Alaska communities or the Calista region. Anchorage is dependent on barges to import and export most goods, and the maritime industry is vital to a wide range of resource development industries. Shipping ties together Southeast communities, and is a primary link between the economy of Alaska, Asia and states in the Pacific Northwest. For all these reasons, the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program will train employees of Calista Corporation marine subsidiaries, but is also open to other maritime companies. We have established a multi-employer, statewide training program, because we recognize that in the maritime industry, strong training programs can help multiple employers and all workers by building a stronger statewide workforce.

The Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program has comprehensive training for a range of occupations: deckhand training to train workers in the Able Body Seaman occupation; engine room training to train workers to become Qualified Members of the Engine Department (QMED); and culinary training, so workers on larger vessels can both work in and ultimately manage large, complex galleys.

This apprenticeship program is unique because it is the first in Alaska that specifically includes a schedule to accommodate subsistence. Hunting, fishing and berry picking is an integral part of Calista shareholders’ way of life. For too long, companies and the government have offered shareholders a false choice: either work in the cash economy or rely on subsistence. Yet both are possible, and necessary. Therefore, the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program ensures participants can honor their subsistence traditions while also advancing in their careers and earning a living wage.

For decades, apprenticeship programs have offered some Alaskans the opportunity to get trained, earn good wages, and support their families. However, apprenticeship programs outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks have been limited and weren’t designed around subsistence. With the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program, we are expanding apprenticeship opportunities available in rural Alaska and honoring subsistence traditions. We hope you’ll get involved, whether you’re looking for a job on the water or want to partner your company with this training program.


• Heidi Drygas is Gov. Bill Walker’s Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. Andrew Guy is President/CEO of the Calista Corporation. The Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program’s webpage is akmaritimeapp.com


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