The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee meeting Friday discussed Alaska’s current workforce development. (Photo credit to Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – December’s job count was up 2.1 percent from December 2021, an increase of 6,400 jobs.
Nearly all industries recorded growth, but most remained below pre-pandemic levels. Overall, Alaska had 4,900 fewer jobs than in December 2019.
Over-the-year gains were largest in leisure and hospitality (+1,800), transportation, warehousing and utilities (+1,800, primarily in transportation) and local government (+800, all in public education).
State government (-600) and manufacturing (-300) were the only two industries down over the year. State government recorded small losses in multiple departments. Manufacturing employment in Alaska is primarily in seafood processing and changes considerably on a monthly as well as a yearly basis according to the harvest season, catch, and available workforce. December is the lowest employment month.
The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in December (down from 4.5 percent in November), and the comparable U.S. rate was 3.5 percent, down from 3.6 percent.
Senator Jesse Bjorkman said what a goal is this year for the Labor and Commerce Committee.
“One goal is to focus on the lack of work on opportunities in our communities to move our economy forward toward a prosperous future. Our workforce changed dramatically over the past few years, and entire industries are struggling to find employment. Alaska’s leaders clear pathways to successful business and workers. We must provide opportunities for workers and entrepreneurs to access information and gain essential skills, tools, and abilities that are required for them to go out and win in the marketplace. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from various state agencies and educators, trade organizations, and representatives to some of the key industries here in Alaska.”
Dr. Tamika L. Ledbetter, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, presented. She has been with the department since 2007. She spoke on the broad reach of the Department throughout the state.
“Particularly our 14 job centers, also the services that we administer within our department and the different divisions that are providing those services. Our reach covers from Ketchikan to Utqiagvik. We have Alaska Vocational Technical Center, which is Ad Tech in Seward. We also provide funding to the eight regional TVEP recipients. There are 27 step grantees, there are eight construction academies. There are many private training providers as well that we are partnering with. So our reach is large, and it’s strong, and I believe we have a lot of ground that we’re covering. Of course, we have work to do, but the apparatus for strong training programs are in effect, and we are covering the entire state.”
Ledbetter spoke about recent funding.
“The Alaska Workforce Investment Board, the 26-member board that’s appointed by the governor, that board represents public and private educational providers. It represents industry, it represents labor entities. Those numbers meet quarterly, they make recommendations on how best to deploy funding and support of training our workforce. The Alaska Workforce Investment Board, this unit provides the governance for the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, otherwise known as WIOA, the funding associated with it, and it’s a requirement in federal legislation, which was passed in 2014. I’d like to draw your attention, particularly to the distribution of TVET 13.5 million. Also, you can see how we administer WIOA funds, specifically adult, dislocated workers. But I also want to point your attention to the $7.4 million that we received in last year’s budget. This was a multi-year appropriation. 1 million was utilized for Workforce Training toward individuals, those individuals get to select what type of training they are interested in. We encourage them to utilize the labor market information to make an informed choice. 1.8 million went directly to construction academies, which is very popular across the state. 4.6 million was put forward through the competitive process. This is a multi-year appropriation. So we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with these 27 or more as we encourage more training providers to come online.”
Ledbetter said they have certain targeted populations that they are looking to work with; veterans, people who are transitioning from the military, people who are coming out of incarceration, youth, people who are adult basic ed deficient, and more.
Ledbetter highlighted one way their department was highlighted during the pandemic.
“Everyone was talking about unemployment insurance. So what I like to say about unemployment insurance, it is not an entitlement program. In fact, it’s a temporary partial wage replacement for eligible workers. It’s essentially funding that is utilized to put food on the table, buy milk and bread and cheese, and put gas in the car, while individuals are looking for work. It’s a way to stabilize the economy for local areas during times of economic downturn. As we all saw throughout the pandemic, there was a lot of weight put on our trust fund during that time, because we had a lot of claimants at that time. But it’s wonderful that I can report that as of today, there are only 5,077 individuals currently receiving unemployment insurance. That is significantly lower than where we were during the height of the pandemic. Also, it’s wonderful to note that the solvency of our UI funding, our trust fund is really healthy, and it is solvent.”
Ledbetter thanked their Division Director Patsy Westcott and their unemployment insurance team because they ensured through their efforts that their UI Trust Fund remained intact, and she said they maintain the integrity of the program.
She also noted that teleworking becoming an option over the pandemic gave more work opportunities to disabled workers.
“Vocational Rehabilitation is another division that many people are not as aware of. We’re doing a better job of promoting the services that are administered by our staff there at Vocational Rehabilitation. Essentially, their role is to assist individuals with disabilities to obtain and to maintain employment. One of the things that we realized throughout the pandemic is during that time, individuals with disabilities had an increase in job opportunities. Telework is really particularly helped to expand those opportunities. Because of the advancements of technologies for the visually and hearing impaired and motor skill impaired, there are new doors being opened, and opportunities for these individuals. Within this division, there are certain several components. One component is our Disabilities Determined Determination Services program. They work directly with individuals who are receiving Social Security Disability. We also have witnesses highlighted in the new proposed budget. I’m very thankful to the governor that he included funding for this innovation idea. The Business Enterprises Program essentially is a program that helps individuals who experience blindness or other disabilities, severe disabilities to establish businesses, particularly in food services and gift shops.”
Childcare is the industry that’s most impacted by the labor shortage in Alaska.
“I think there are things that we absolutely must do now in order to facilitate support to that industry. I think we need to certainly professionalize childcare. I think we need to stop calling it a daycare. I think we probably should beef up the wages in that industry. We need to look at it as we are not only supporting the current workforce, but we’re also training up the future workforce, because those young people, those children who see and experience their parents working, they probably are more inclined to lean into employment as well.”