Gov's budget cuts construction training funds

Training academies in Juneau, Ketchikan, elsewhere to see sharp decrease in funds

KENAI — A state program that offers free training to high school students and adults looking to enter the construction industry could see a sharp decline in funding next year if the Legislature approves Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget cuts.

Alaska Construction Academies would lose $600,000 in funding under Walker’s fiscal year 2018 budget, which was released last month. That would leave the Department of Labor and Workforce Development program with only about $1.2 million to operate in various parts of the state, The Peninsula Clarion reported.

“This will also greatly reduce the number (of) Alaskans trained through ACA unless the department can identify federal and/or private funding to help backfill this reduction,” according to the budget.

Kathleen Castle is the executive director of the Construction Education Foundation, the nonprofit that receives the state funds for the program. She said the proposed cuts aren’t meant to eliminate the academies, but to encourage coordinators to look elsewhere for funding.

The cuts come amid a downturn in Alaska’s construction industry, with fewer job opportunities and lower bids for projects. Many companies are laying people off, Castle said.

There was more work available and companies were looking to fill positions when the academies began 11 years ago. Industry representatives had worked with the Legislature to get state funds that would help prepare workers with some of the basic skills needed to enter the construction industry, Castle said.

The academies train residents in Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Valley and on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Kenai Peninsula Construction Academy offers classes on carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. It has also recently expanded to provide classes in diesel mechanics to help participants diversify their skills, said Bob Hammer, the academy’s program coordinator.

The Legislature is scheduled to consider Walker’s budget when the regular session starts Monday.

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