prove their marketability for seasonal construction work in their area. They wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time training outside their village, and many construction crews make exceptions for hiring journeymen workers when they’re working in a rural area. “A registered apprenticeship program is very important, but it’s also important that we have these other avenues where people can work on a job but [don’t have to be] registered journeymen,” he says. AGC has fought the requirement for registered journeymen to fill positions in cases where work is being done in rural areas on the grounds that going with skilled workers instead allows for maximized local hire.
The Need Is Great but Funding Is Down Castle says those who go through ACA training are generally employed after their training is done. Between 2007 and 2013, she says, the state invested $8.5 million in construction training for 2,200 adults. In 2014, 72 percent of the adults who went through the training were employed. However, the state is facing a fiscal crisis, and legislators are looking for places to cut spending. ACA’s contract with the state in 2016 is pegged at $2.4 million, but Castle and other supporters will be working hard
to keep funding available for the program. Just as important as continued education investment is continued investment in construction projects, says MacKinnon. He predicts that Alaskans will see a decline in building construction, but a somewhat smaller drop in state and federally funded “horizontal” construction such as roads and sewer lines. Bids are becoming more competitive, he says, a sign that more companies are looking for work. “A job that would have only attracted six bidders now will have twelve or fourteen,” he says. “We may even see a shakeout, with some companies no longer being around.” MacKinnon says when the economy tanked in the United States in 2009, many people within reach of retirement age left the industry. Some got trained in other careers, while others simply retired. Younger people who lost construction-related jobs by and large got trained in other fields, he says. Now, more than a dozen regions of the nation are experiencing “very severe” worker shortage, he says. If the state continues to shrink its capital budget, he says, Alaska may be facing some of the same issues soon. “Last year was the lowest capital budget in ten years. I think we need to maintain some of our efforts to restore the capital budget,” he says. “The greatest shortage
is going to be on the building side. What the administration and legislature need to do is come out with a significant deferred maintenance package. We have state facilities all over that are continually aging.” Investing in existing infrastructure, MacKinnon says, will employ workers and also help keep the state’s real estate investment intact. When building maintenance is continually deferred, he says, the cost of performing the maintenance increases significantly. MacKinnon suggests smaller projects, such as doing energy improvements in buildings that haven’t had them yet, could pay off for the state through reduced energy bills. But not taking action—simply trimming the capital budget to the bone—will have a ripple effect through the state economy, he says. AGC’s recent annual construction forecast pointed out that the Alaska construction economy is a big part of the state’s overall economy. “We’re eighteen thousand people with an average salary of about $75,000 a year,” MacKinnon says. “It’s definitely a piece of the economy, and if we let it go [by not funding projects] it’s going to hit us in a few years.”R Rindi White is a freelance journalist living in Palmer.
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March 2016 | Alaska Business Monthly
Published on Mar 1, 2016
Published on Mar 1, 2016
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