Alaska’s economy is built on bright minds and brilliant ideas. But the state and rest of the country are facing a workforce shortage that threatens to topple industry. Too few students are entering careers in technical fields and business owners and consumers are paying the price.
Nearly 80 percent of construction businesses are having a difficult time finding qualified workers, according to a 2015 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. A 2018 report from ADP and Moody’s Analytics revealed 6.7 million positions are vacant because there aren’t qualified employees available to fill the job openings.
Careers in technical fields are often lucrative and sustainable, so why are companies having such a hard time finding qualified candidates? A lot of it comes down to a student’s
experience early on. A student’s first job is an important milestone and these after-school gigs aren’t about the paycheck. Most pay just enough to fill up the tank and buy a pair of theatre tickets on a Friday night. The real payoff comes down the road.
Delivering the newspaper and serving fast food aren’t meant to be stepping- stones to careers, instead they teach invaluable life lessons that lead to successful future employment. “Employment teaches students professionalism, skills and workplace disposition,” said Missy Fraze, the assistant director for Career and Technical Education for the Anchorage School District. “But many parents today aren’t asking students to work.”
The trend is causing problems in the workforce. When students eventually enter the workforce, employers say many lack basic employability skills. “The right attitude and dispositions are not there,” Fraze said. But Fraze is working hard to change that.
The Anchorage School District’s Career Technical Education Program aims to create a new workforce by giving students an in-depth, hands-on introduction into career fields. These career paths lead to apprenticeships, post-secondary education and industry-recognized certifications. CTE courses are offered in middle and high school and include industry fields like health, business, finance, information technology and construction.
“We use industry advisors to help us review, revise and modernize our programs to meet whatever the workforce demands are,” Fraze said. The Anchorage Home Builders
Association has been working with CTE for the past two years on the architecture and construction courses. East High School, Service High School, Bartlett High School and King Tech High School have construction-focused programs. Industry professionals give CTE important information on what the gaps are in the current labor market and how to fill those gaps.
“It’s important for us to engage industry and have them provide input because they have buy-in into what we’re doing,” Fraze said. Input from industry professionals is essential
to building a successful workforce. Their feedback shapes coursework and helps provide work-based learning experiences for students. CTE partners with industry experts to provide students with internships, worksite visits, job shadow opportunities and other real-world work experiences.
The skill-building and on-the-job experiences can lead to big opportunities. Eric Visser, co-owner of Visser Construction, took on an intern from CTE’s carpentry program. Following the internship, Visser hired the intern to work full-time. “Eric took a chance on him and its paying dividends now,” Fraze said. “And the student gained a lot of confidence.”
Work-based learning experiences help students uncover potential careers. CTE courses are also designed to expose students to a wide-variety of career options including many technical careers like construction. “Students aren’t aware that there is an entire economy that is built on jobs that don’t require a four-year degree,” Fraze said. “For decades education has focused on ‘college for all’ and those were great intentions but what we did in turn was somehow diminish any other opportunity.”
Exploring technical schools or apprenticeships is one way to avoid starting a career in debt. Student loan balances have jumped nearly 150 percent in the last decade, according to Experian. “There are jobs in our state that are being filled with people from other states, because we don’t have people to fill them,” Fraze said. “We need to help students understand opportunities that exist in industries like construction.”
Careers in the construction industry provide financial stability: painters average $56,000 yearly, plumbers average $69,000 yearly and carpenters average $88,000 yearly.
Partusch Plumbing & Heating is just one of many apprenticeship opportunities for youth. It gives young people with a GED or high school diploma the opportunity to become a journeyman plumber without racking up thousands in debt. The apprenticeship, registered through the U.S. Department of Labor, is based on 8,000 hours and four years of correspondence school. Partusch covers the enrollment fees, which add up to nearly $4,000. Students graduate from the program a journeyman plumber and debt-free.
Students need to know there are a variety of career options available. The first step is having the right conversation about the future with your kids. That conversation should happen as early as middle school. Starting in middle school students begin eliminating career options, which is why CTE programs start in middle school.
“The question we should have for our students shouldn’t be where are you going to college, it should be what are you interested in? And then backward plan,” Fraze said. Fraze is extremely grateful for the partnership between CTE, AHBA and AHBA’s Professional Women in Building Council. When educators, industry and parents work together, everyone wins. Through CTE, students gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to enter the workforce at their full potential. Growing the next generation of talented workers strengthens the Alaska industry and ensures a vibrant future for the Last Frontier and everybody in it.
If you’re interested in exploring a new career field, you can reach out to Partusch to inquire about a plumbing apprenticeship, Northern Industrial Training to learn about truck driving and IBEW to learn more about electrical careers. You can also connect with CTE for information.
CTE is also always looking for industry professionals to help improve course curriculum, serve as guest speakers and assist in different ways. Or, if you’re a student or parent interested in learning more about the CTE department visit www.asdk12.org/cte.
AHBA is committed to building a strong workforce by helping students. The AHBA Care Endowment awards scholarships that foster education opportunities. To be eligible you must be a graduating high school senior, student employed by an AHBA member, dependent of an AHBA members or a dependent of someone employed by an AHBA member. The recipient must use the funds for college or a trade or vocational school. For more information visit www.ahba.net/scholarship.