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Alaska must prepare workforce now for burgeoning oil patches, mega projects

Dianne Blumer
OPINION: With new investment headed for Alaska's oil and gas sector, an essential first step is creating agreement about priorities, and in that spirit, we've updated Alaska's Workforce Development Plan to addresses and identify the varying priority occupations and career pathways necessary to build long-anticipated mega projects. istockphoto

In this decade alone, Alaska will need 7,500 trained, highly-skilled oil and gas workers to meet current industry demand.

Whether it's billions in investment and new exploration spurred by SB 21, the More Alaska Production Act, production projects such as Point Thomson construction, or the rebirth of the Cook Inlet basin, Alaska's booming oil and gas sector requires highly-trained Alaska workers.

Further, mega projects like the Alaska LNG Project and the Donlin Gold mine will add thousands of more jobs to that demand.

This spring, Gov. Sean Parnell and the Alaska Legislature laid the groundwork for the Alaska LNG Project with the passage of Senate Bill 138. During construction, this project is expected to provide upwards of 15,000 jobs.

The Parnell administration is focusing on workforce development that includes a combination of education, training and timing. The system must be finely calibrated to prepare work-ready Alaskans as increased demand is emerging.

Last summer I asked a group of oil and gas industry leaders, aided by education and training advisors, and supported by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to update Alaska's Oil and Gas Workforce Development Plan.

The result of their efforts was published this week. An essential first step in creating agreement about priorities, this plan lays out what must be done to fine-tune Alaska's oil and gas workforce development system.

It also addresses several key industry issues, such as priority occupations, Alaska's talent pipeline and education, training and education incentives, and trends in Alaska's oil and gas industry.

With more than 270 professions essential to the oil and gas industry, it's clear that training for these occupations is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the plan addresses and identifies the varying priority occupations and career pathways.

Recognizing that developing Alaska's talent pipeline is a major undertaking, the Parnell administration is committed to growing Alaska's economy through workforce development. While one in five Alaska jobs requires a bachelor's degree or more, the vast majority of jobs -- now and in the future -- will require more than a high school diploma or GED.

Current middle and high school students across Alaska will comprise much of the workforce for these future mega projects. Policymakers, parents, educators, training providers and the students themselves must work together to develop the knowledge, skills and awareness necessary to build careers in our state.

Less than a decade ago, nearly 40 percent of young Alaskans left for education and jobs outside. Since that time, our state has made bold moves to expand career and technical education in our high schools, provide career awareness and work experience through the Alaska Youth First program, establish the Alaska Performance Scholarship and invest in training opportunities for adults and youth.

As we move forward to implement our workforce development plan and maintain a watchful eye on our future opportunities, students, parents, incumbent workers, educators, trainers, and policymakers all have roles to play.

I encourage all Alaskans to familiarize themselves with the Alaska Oil and Gas Workforce Development Plan and similar sector strategies currently in place or in development.

The plan is available online.

Everyone loves a comeback story and Alaska's is just beginning. Let's continue working together to build a bright future for all Alaskans.

Dianne Blumer is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and a board member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.