My Turn: Apprenticeships more important than ever

  • Tuesday, November 17, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

Gov. Bill Walker recently signed Administrative Order 278 to expand use of registered apprenticeships on state construction and resource development projects on state lands.

This administrative order expands apprenticeship utilization policies first established by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2005. It is designed to promote workforce development, strengthen Alaska’s middle class and promote “Alaska Hire.”

Apprenticeships are a time-tested method of training workers for skilled vocational jobs. From operating engineers to electricians to pipefitters, apprenticeships prepare workers for skilled jobs with good pay and benefits. In Alaska, we have strong private sector apprenticeship programs that train workers for construction, oil and gas, mining, and many other industries.

In recent years, apprenticeships have expanded dramatically into fields like health care and advanced manufacturing. Some states have established new apprenticeship programs as a central workforce development tool to recruit new employers and industries, while states like Alaska have expanded our longstanding apprenticeship programs.

Research data suggest that there are significant economic benefits from apprenticeships. Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development researchers found that graduates of our apprenticeship programs earn nearly three times more money after finishing their apprenticeship compared to what they earned before. Apprenticeship program graduates earn an average income exceeding $80,000, which is 60 percent higher than the average Alaska worker. More than 90 percent of apprentice program graduates continue working in Alaska, which is much higher than average. From the data, we know that apprenticeship programs contribute to a stronger middle class and help us meet “Alaska Hire” goals by ensuring we have resident workers who can do the job.

By helping meet employers’ demand for skilled workers, apprenticeships play a key role in our workforce development efforts for resource development. For example, Gov. Walker has focused on moving forward with a gas line and the state is working diligently to ensure our workforce is trained to build that project. Apprenticeships for the gas line are a key part of that workforce development effort. When we build the pipeline, I look forward to seeing Alaskans on the job site.

Apprenticeships aren’t just good for working families and for the state’s workforce development goals. They also help companies engaged in resource development. Red Dog Mine, located in a remote part of northwest Alaska, recently expanded its apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships can help mining, oil and gas companies develop their workforce with on-the-job training.

Administrative Order 278 builds on Gov. Murkowski’s apprenticeship utilization policy. In 2005, Gov. Murkowski directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to use apprentices for at least 15 percent of work hours on highway projects. Gov. Walker’s administrative order simply expands that 15 percent requirement to state buildings and establishes a 15 percent goal for resource development occurring on state lands. It is not retroactive, so contractors don’t need to interrupt work they are doing right now. But it will be a useful tool for future projects.

I believe the state should always seek to learn from private sector best practices. Based on years of experience, we know that apprenticeships are a valuable workforce development tool in the construction and resource development sector. We also know that apprenticeships contribute to strong middle class wages and a healthy economy.

As we prepare our workforce for the gas line, apprenticeships are more important than ever. That’s why the state is learning from the private sector and expanding use of apprenticeships for a range of state projects.

• Heidi Drygas is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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