State pushing to prepare workers for gas line jobs

Official cites gap between possible jobs and available skilled workers

Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ANCHORAGE - When a North Slope natural gas pipeline is built, Alaska wants state workers on the job instead of too many nonresidents.

Currently there's a gap between possible jobs and the available skilled workers, according to Gerry Andrews of the Alaska Department of Labor's gas line job education and training initiative.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that even though no one has committed to build a gas line, the state Labor Department is preparing Alaskans for the construction and operation jobs. The mandate was set three years ago when the Palin administration signed the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

Officials worry retirements will leave the state short of welders, truck drivers, engineers and other workers.

"There's a grave concern about our work force," said Rick Rios, the Anchorage School District's coordinator of career and technical education.

Legislative funding has established construction academies at five school districts, with nearly 1,000 students signed up for classes this year.

Rios said the students he talks to are eager for work. "We had 20 seniors sign up for a (carpentry) institute over spring break - an eight-day, intensive study," Rios said. "They gave up their whole break for the 60 hours to be prepared for a job," he said.

Engineers are also in high demand for future pipeline work. An estimated 35 percent of the engineers in some disciplines in Alaska are nonresidents, according to the University of Alaska. Statewide, the university system is seeking to double the amount of its graduating engineers by 2014.

"That probably doesn't even touch what's needed," said Todd Bergman, a former state educator who now runs the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium.

Unions in Alaska said they are trying to boost the number of the people they train - despite the slow economy.

Charles Engblom, apprenticeship coordinator for the Ironworkers Local 751 in Anchorage, said his union has 70 fewer apprentices in Alaska than it might need for a gas line project, based on some rough numbers he received from the state over a year ago.

He said he hopes to provide apprentices needed for a pipeline project, but right now there aren't a lot of new jobs to put them in.

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