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Apprenticeship as a strategy for recovery

  • Author: Tamika Ledbetter
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 27
  • Published March 27

Downtown Anchorage, photographed on Sunday, March 14, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The National Governor’s Association, or NGA, is featuring the accomplishments of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development at its annual conference this year. I have been invited to address the participants from all 50 states on “Alaskan Apprenticeship as a Strategy for Recovery.”

Since 2008, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, or AKDOLWD, has actively promoted the expansion of apprenticeship as a successful training pathway toward employment. In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor and the employer community, the department works closely with businesses to set up sponsorship and financial assistance for the costs of apprenticeship.

Over the past few years, Alaska has received three sizeable federal grants to promote the expansion of apprenticeship in health care, aviation and construction careers. As an example, the American Apprenticeship Initiative provided nearly $3 million to expand apprenticeship in health care occupations. In recognition of the success of this partnership, Alaska was recognized as one of the top grantees in the country.

Since Alaska is a large state and many remote areas do not have access to brick-and-mortar schools, each occupation was provided online related technical instruction, or RTI, which allowed AKDOLWD to sign up sponsors quickly and efficiently. To date, we have signed up more than 90 sponsors and registered over 600 apprentices. Occupations include: certified nursing assistant (dementia care), medical assistant, medical office assistant, dispensing optician, behavioral health technician, veterinary technician, pharmacy technician, dental assistant, phlebotomist and MRI technician.

One unexpected benefit of using only online training is that our apprenticeship efforts were able to continue uninterrupted during the pandemic. While other states were scrambling to place their RTI online, Alaska experienced no interruptions.

Pre-apprenticeship trainings have also been funded. The Southcentral Alaska Health Education Center is a great example. The trainings last three weeks and participants are introduced to the health care fundamentals and receive certifications such as CPR/first aid, blood borne pathogens and mental health first aid. On the last day of training, they are interviewed by employers who appreciate getting a pool of ready-to-work applicants. As one employer remarked, “If I hired someone off the street, it would take weeks for them to get all the certifications and testing that these applicants start with. Plus, they are super-motivated.”

Alaska Works Partnership, or AWP, provides pre-apprenticeship training in construction. Recently, AWP received a four-year, $1.9 million grant to expand youth apprenticeship in Alaska. AKDOLWD will continue to work closely with AWP to promote youth apprenticeship as a viable training pathway toward good-paying jobs.

The Crisis Now Project, set to start in 2021 and funded by the Mental Health Trust Authority, is an emergency service that will utilize mental health clinicians and peer support specialists to respond to crisis situations and eliminate unnecessary hospitalizations and incarceration. AKDOLWD is working with the Office of Apprenticeship and the Division of Behavioral Health to set up the peer support specialist apprenticeship.

AVTEC, Alaska’s premier vocational educational school, offers a related studies program for construction occupations. Previously, the Office of Apprenticeship incorporated this program into the related technical instruction for the construction occupation apprenticeships. This has enabled our apprenticeship specialists to quickly respond by setting up sponsorships for related construction occupations.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is actively engaged with our community and education partners to ensure that Alaskans are trained and ready for high demand, good-paying jobs. As a sustainability approach, the promotion of apprenticeship has been incorporated into our business services model and workforce development plan. The keys to success are strong partnerships with the business community. Working together we will get Alaska on the road to economic recovery. To learn more, please contact 907-465-2700.

Tamika Ledbetter is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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