When Pamela Johnson was ready to reenter the workforce, she knew she needed some help.
The mother of four had stayed home for several years while her daughters were small, and as she started to test the waters of the Anchorage job market, it didn’t take her long to feel like she was getting in over her head.
“When you’ve been at home with kids for a while, interacting with another adult is kind of a shock to the system,” Johnson said. “I had applied at a few other jobs, and a few of them I didn’t get. I was feeling so bummed.”
On paper, Johnson had picked the worst possible time to look for work.
“I would say it is definitely a tough job market right now,” said Nikki Graham, senior director of Alaska’s People, a Cook Inlet Tribal Council program that works to connect Alaska Native and American Indian people and their family members with employment and career development opportunities. “We’re coming off the heels of a recession, COVID hit, the tourism industry has taken a significant hit, and a lot of those customer service and seasonal jobs really took a hit.”
Despite the competitive market Alaska employers are having a hard time filling some positions, according to Graham. Alaska’s population growth over the last decade has been well below the national average, and it skews increasingly older. Although there are lots of people looking for work, there are a limited number of qualified applicants for many jobs.
“We don’t have a labor pool -- we have a labor puddle,” Graham said.
In the coming months, employers are likely to see more turnover, she added.
“They’re calling it the ‘COVID churn,’” Graham said. “People haven’t moved. They’ve been a little paralyzed. It’s a scary time to change jobs, if there are even jobs in the industry you’re in.”
As things open back up, she said, expect to see more vacancies as people make changes that have been on hold during the pandemic -- or triggered by it.
“People have also had a lot of time to reflect,” Graham said. “When these major life events happen to you, you do a lot of soul searching. I think we’re going to see people making moves.”
The combination of demand for jobs, demand for talent, and increased movement means that both applicants and potential employers need to find ways to stand out in the employment marketplace, according to Graham. Here are some of her suggestions for attracting the right talent and landing the right job.
Advice for Alaska job seekers: Figure out what you want.
For Johnson, who felt lost in her return to the job market, help came in the form of a job coach provided by CITC’s Alaska’s People. She learned how to improve her resume, write a cover letter that represented her skills and values, and look for jobs that met her needs, too. If she was going to be away from her children, she wanted to make sure she was working someplace with a mission she believed in.
“I really had to sit down and figure out what really makes me happy,” Johnson said. “In my own little journal, my own little notebook, I wrote down what my dream job would be: making a difference or helping.”
Those efforts paid off. When Johnson saw a posting for a front desk position at Identity Alaska’s new health clinic, she instantly knew it was the perfect fit. Her Alaska’s People coaches helped her perfect and submit her application, and she landed the job.
“I love my job,” Johnson said. “I love their mission statement, and I love what they stand for. I was just very drawn to this position. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Look to growth industries.
As the job market and the state’s needs continue to change, so will opportunities.
“People are going to need to focus on industries that are hiring,” Graham said, pointing to fields like tourism that were largely shut down in 2020. “Those opportunities are going to slowly reopen.”
Health care jobs will continue to grow as the state’s population ages, and qualified tradespeople are also highly sought-after.
“I know many organizations who are looking for CDLs, electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians but are coming up short,” Graham said. “Demand for the skilled trades is high, and I think there is a big opportunity for folks to enter into these trades.”
The more versatile you are, the more easily you can migrate to a new industry.
“Try to acquire new skills,” Graham said. “Look into temporary work. Find ways to advance yourself, to learn a new skill. Broadening your skillset will really help strengthen your resume.”
Learn to use online job search and networking tools.
“Gone are the days when you’re looking for the ‘help wanted’ sign,” Graham said.
Today’s job market is largely digital, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and that will only increase, along with the importance of programs like Alaska’s People that help applicants overcome tech barriers.
“There’s going to be a tangible shift,” Graham said. “We’re trying to leverage all these technological tools that we have available to us.” Alaska’s People held its first virtual job fair this year, and many of the employers Graham works with are doing interviews over video chat. She uses tools like LinkedIn to identify potential candidates.
“We have all this technology at our fingertips,” Graham said. “Think of it on a bigger scale. The world looks different now.”
If you haven’t established a presence on LinkedIn, now’s the time to get started, she added, and keep your audience in mind.
“Whose attention do you want to get?” Graham said. “You want to be somewhat focused. You want employers, ideally, to seek you out.”
Market yourself with a thoughtful resume.
When she’s hiring, Graham said, she can tell within the first few seconds whether someone is actually interested in the position she’s trying to fill.
“You notice these resumes that come through that you know someone’s just sending their resume to 500 people,” she said. “Ideally you’ve read the job description. You really should custom tailor it based off of the job. Employers are going to look for that.”
Graham is a fan of a one-page resume, but if you have to run over, keep it to two pages, and emphasize the skills that make you uniquely qualified for the job.
“I think that a lot of traditional employers are looking beyond the traditional resume,” Graham said. “We’re looking for company and culture fits, and people that are able to think outside the box, critically think, and problem solve.”
This is another place where a little help goes a long way.
“It’s always good to have another pair of eyes look at your resume and your cover letter,” Johnson said. “And make sure that that cover letter and that resume are an extension of you and your core values.”
Advice for Alaska employers: Post-pandemic, work will change
The last year has changed many workplaces, and Graham said employers who want to compete in the post-COVID world should consider keeping some of the changes that workers like.
“They’re going to have to be open-minded,” she said. “We are not going to be the same world we were pre-COVID, even as things open up. As society starts to keep moving forward, we’re going to have to rethink the way we do things.”
Employers will need to market themselves to a workforce that has learned to appreciate working at home, spending less time in the car and having more time for family and hobbies. You don’t have to change with the times, she added, but refusing to do so can come at a price.
“You’re going to weed yourself out of getting that top talent,” Graham said. “Flexibility is going to be top of the list.”
Look beyond location.
Remote work has gone mainstream, and if it has worked for your organization during the pandemic, there’s no reason it can’t keep working for you. Not every position can go remote -- Graham’s own, she pointed out, is people-oriented and best done face-to-face -- but it’s worth it to consider whether a full-time onsite presence is necessary for a given job. Skilled professionals, like accountants, human resources professionals and paralegals, can be successful working remotely in many cases.
“I really see it as being a combination,” she said. “What makes sense for the business? Lots of businesses can be really successful doing it.”
Last year, with an eye on this trend, CITC acquired Alaska Native Hire, a website that connects Alaska Native job-seekers with employment opportunities and also allows regional corporations and other Tribal entities to search for candidates by criteria including location and shareholder/descendant status. If your business is located in Southcentral, you may find the right person in Utqiagvik, Nome or Sitka through a remote work arrangement.
“Employment is just kind of moving out of Anchorage to a certain extent,” Graham said. “We’re seeing a definite uptick in rural areas.”
Invest in employees.
“Human capital is the most valuable resource you have,” Graham said. “You should be investing in their development. I think that is something, too, that this up-and-coming generation really wants.”
Employers who sponsor continuing education, professional memberships and other enrichment opportunities will have an easier time attracting and retaining talent.
“The mission and the work is really important, but knowing that your employer is really invested in you and your development is going to be very attractive,” Graham said.
Take advantage of services for job-seekers and employers.
Recruiting is a time-consuming task, especially for smaller businesses. Graham recommends investing in expert help as a more efficient alternative to trying to manage the entire recruiting, screening and hiring process in-house. Alaska’s People recently opened up its recruitment services to other employers in the state to provide an affordable alternative to temp agencies, which tend to be a bit more expensive.
“Our sweet spot is probably small-to-mid employers who probably aren’t big enough to have their own recruiting team,” Graham said. “We could just really see a lot of folks in the community needing this type of help.”
As for job-seekers, she said -- keep trying, seek help from a job coach, and don’t lose hope.
“The jobs are out there,” Graham said. “They really are. They might be a little bit harder to find, but there are plenty of opportunities out there. As things start to open up, we’re going to see a lot of movement, and I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for people. I get emails from employers every day.”
Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Alaska’s People program works to connect Alaska Native and American Indian people in the Cook Inlet region to employment and training opportunities and actively recruits the best candidates for CITC’s workforce. Learn more at citci.org/alaskas-people.
This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Cook Inlet Tribal Council. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.