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OPINION: Reversing the great Alaska brain drain

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I suggest two low-cost methods to increase the Alaska workforce. The first is to retain more of our thousands of seasonal and military personnel. The second is to recruit more interns.

Bringing summer and military workers back

In the Aug. 30 Anchorage Daily News, Bill Popp of Anchorage Economic Development Corp. wrote that 34% of our young people between 16 and 26 years old are leaving for the Lower 48, and that our labor pool is shrinking. One way to reverse that is to make better use of our large and growing labor sources.

Each year, thousands of summer workers arrive. Once their tourism or fisheries work is over, they quickly leave to conserve their summer savings. If there were a central database on which seasonal workers could post their resumes and interests before they left to go south, then employers could interview them in person for current jobs and as well as those that would be available after they graduate.

Organizations such as the state Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development or the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Business Enterprise Institute could create the central database.

Military personnel and family members ought to be able sign up in a similar database that would provide opportunities to interview for current and future after - military jobs before they leave for other postings. They have been exposed to our weather for a lot longer than a summer, so if they are interested and are later offered work, there’s an even stronger likelihood of their becoming long-term Alaskans.

Internships lead to returnees

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People typically first come here for work, not lifestyle. We need to build on that by offering more work. Private, academic and government employers can offer more summer internships to both Alaska students attending Outside institutions as well non-resident students.

The state Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development ought to have a program whereby every Alaska student attending university Outside should be given the opportunity to come back for a summer job or internship. The Alaska Postsecondary Education loan programs should communicate with its student borrowers about internship and part-time work programs.

Programs should give priority to Alaska students but should also be widely publicized to non-residents. Many interns will return as residents. That’s how I and many originally nonresident professionals were introduced to Alaska and returned to stay. Simply: more internships equals more long-term skilled workers.

Heat waves, droughts, brownouts, traffic congestion, smoky skies are making living in Alaska comparatively more attractive than ever compared to living Outside, so more interns will eventually come back.

Engineering, surveying and environmental firms could offer indoor and outdoor work. Medical, and professional service firms as well as government and institutions could employ interns. Organizations such as the Business Enterprise Institute, state Labor Department, the Small Business Administration and the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation could assist in developing internships.

Reversing the brain drain will help all players in our economy. Better communicating opportunities and creating more internships are good places to jumpstart this process.

Miles Schlosberg is a longtime Alaska businessman and property owner.

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.

Miles Schlosberg

Miles Schlosberg is a longtime Alaska businessman and property owner.

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