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Skilled workers: The backbone of our communities and our economy

  • Author: Michele Stalder
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 3, 2018
  • Published August 3, 2018

Throughout our daily lives, we depend on the skills and services of others. From bookkeepers, nursing aides and security personnel, to welders, small-engine repair and heavy-equipment mechanics, Alaska thrives when there is a dedicated workforce that serves our communities.

You may be surprised to learn that these jobs require some form of post-secondary training, which can be earned through the University of Alaska now at a reduced tuition rate.

UA is cutting tuition on select occupational programs and career and technical education (CTE) courses by 25 percent. The discount applies to 50 programs and more than 300 courses at all three universities including community campuses. Eligible programs range from pharmacy technology to welding and mine mechanics; many courses can be taken online to accommodate employed Alaskans looking to refresh skills or embark on a new career.

The university is the No. 1 provider of workforce development programs in the state, and training a skilled workforce to meet the state's needs is one of UA's top goals. While UA's tuition is low compared to peer universities in the western United States, its tuition for CTE programs has been considered to be high compared to community college systems Outside.

By providing a discount for these CTE courses, UA hopes to enroll Alaskans who want to refresh or earn new skills and those who want to return to college to complete a workforce training program. With excellent faculty throughout the state, the opportunity to prepare for a new career has never been better.

For example, health care is one of the few economic sectors in Alaska that is growing, and future needs extend far beyond more doctors and nurses. Billing and medical coding technicians, medical office receptionists, nurse aides and phlebotomists also are critical positions that do not require the expense of several years of study. In fact, occupational endorsements in these fields can be earned in as few as nine credits and include hands-on training experiences that lead directly to employment opportunities.

Most hands-on careers now require higher skill levels and knowledge of technology. Not just jobs in IT fields — although the discount-eligible Cisco Certified Network Associate training program is a great step through that door — even traditional trade jobs including fishing, mining and automotive repair incorporate new technology and require basic understanding of computers and electronics in addition to traditional trade skills. Modern CTE coursework embraces current technological trends and prepares students for today's trades.

According to projections by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, by 2020, 65 percent of the jobs in Alaska's economy will require some post-secondary certificate or degree. The last time this was measured, the rate was just 37 percent, indicating that Alaska's economy is changing and the demand for advanced skilled labor is increasing. But as these highly compact occupational endorsement programs prove, it's not about getting any credential; it's about getting the right credential for the work that is desired and available.

In order to incorporate new technologies into traditional technical career programs, the university partners with businesses around the state. The university is working closely with industry councils and work teams to develop nimble training programs that meet evolving industry standards and produce the right number of skilled graduates to satisfy employers' needs.

The university also is adapting programs to work with the technology and lifestyles of students in a technologically advanced world by offering more courses online and incorporating apprenticeship models for training to allow students to earn while they learn and make school more affordable. Campuses are working together closely to avoid unnecessary duplication of programs as well as simplify the navigation process for students throughout the university system.

Anyone interested can find a complete list of eligible courses and programs online. The university's tuition reduction will be applied at the time of registration on a course-by-course basis. For example, for most locations, tuition is $212 per credit, so the applied reduction is $53 per credit. There is no reduction to assessed fees, surcharges or other costs.

College life and a four-year degree isn't for everyone, but career and technical training after high school is expected to be the trend for many jobs in the future. The University of Alaska is the place to go for this training. If UA can prepare Alaskans for these jobs, Alaskans will fill them. Otherwise, skilled employees will be hired from outside the state.

It's a great time to get more for less, and the university wants to help Alaskans prepare for a profitable future. Anyone wanting to register for fall classes should do so before registration closes on Sept. 7. We hope to see you on a UA campus this fall!

Michele Stalder is the dean of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College. Its purpose is preparing workforce-ready graduates and community-driven education.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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