State addresses nonresident worker issues

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The state has responded to letter from Sen. Albert Kookesh addressing employment issues for rural areas and Alaska residents. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development states the issues raised by the senator are already among the top priorities.

Chris Miller / Chris Miller
Chris Miller / Chris Miller

Kookesh wrote a letter to Gov. Sean Parnell outlining areas he feels should be addressed by the administration. Among these areas was high unemployment in some communities within his district with joblessness in some reaching 90 percent. A large issue raised was that of nonresident workers on the North Slope and other state areas. Kookesh cited several statistics from the 2008 Alaska Department of Labor nonresident report and a 2009 research and analysis section that state 41 percent of workers in North Slope and 51 percent of new hires are nonresidents. Other nonresident statistics include a 30-100 percentage range for mining, 40 percent for construction, 50-86 percent for hotels, 30-50 percent for forestry and at least 85 percent in the fishing industry.

He states, “Training would definitely be a good place to start, but according to this same report we have a large number unemployed and underemployed Alaska resident’s workers with skills in occupations currently filled by nonresidents.”

He emphasizes the need for project training agreements for Alaskans and examination of employment preferences.

Commissioner Clark Bishop of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development responded on the governor’s behalf. He wrote providing employment for Alaskans is one of the administration’s top priorities and he recognizes such employment opportunities can be limited in rural areas, resulting in unacceptable highs.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development published a 2009 report stating that $1.8 billion in earnings was lost to nonresidents, something else the Commissioner said is unacceptable.

That report does, however, state that nonresident hire in 2009 was 19.1 percent, down from 19.6 percent the previous year. Earning for residents and nonresidents increased at about the same percent in 2009 with resident earnings going up 2 percent to $11.8 billion and nonresident earnings increased 1.9 percent to $1.8 billion.

Bishop agrees training is necessary to help with this. To this effect, a construction training plan to help ensure work for Alaskans on the natural gas pipeline was implemented in 2008. Another development cited was the Career and Technical Education Plan by his department, Education and Early Development and the University of Alaska to identify and resolve workforce challenges, such as worker shortages and skill gaps.

The department’s Communication Director, Beth Leschper, said increasing resident hiring is a critical priority of the department, with a heavy focus on training and partnerships.

“Everyone agrees we need to improve Alaska hires,” she said.

Besides the education plan, other such partnerships noted were two rural firefighting academies in Tok and McGrath through cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources, the Division of Forestry and Workforce Investment Act funds.

Leschper said 78 firefighters were trained through this while 43 core drillers were trained through the University of Alaska partnership.

“The commissioner believes employers need to be engaged in creating solutions,” she said. “We can train Alaskans but we need employers to hire those folks that have the skills.”

To this effect, the Alaska Workforce Investment Board recently passed a resolution stating it recognizes while nonresident workers have decreased, the percentages are still unacceptable and recommends the Legislature and governor to provide incentives for businesses and industries to employ more skilled Alaskans.

Leschper added that the governor’s office has played a pivotal role in this goal.

Parnell’s spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Bishop’s response outlines the administration’s effort to provide job opportunities for all Alaskans.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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