Developing Alaska's Workforce
By Click Bishop
September 02, 2008
Yesterday on Labor Day we honored the dignity of human labor.
In Alaska, that means honoring the approximately 397,000 Alaskans
in our workforce the lifeblood of the land of opportunity
that is Alaska. Our great state has been built by the blood and
sweat of all the individuals who envisioned a grand future for
themselves and their children.
The strength of our economy comes from hardworking men and women
who give their best every day, including the thousands of high
school, technical school and university graduates who enter the
workforce every year.
Although many businesses cite the difficulty of finding qualified
employees as their single biggest challenge, many throughout
Alaska can't find jobs. This labor disconnection is a tipping
point in our economy. It affects not only day-to-day business,
but also limits opportunity for long-term growth.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development is committed
to helping good workers and good employers find each other. We
will also respond by working harder to provide training, education
and apprenticeships. Our success will depend on strong partnerships
with industry and education, as our needs and resources complement
Governor Palin has signed four bills into law, which provide
additional support for working Alaskans and strengthen our businesses
and communities increasing unemployment benefits, extending
the state training program, extending education tax credits to
vocational programs and increasing funding for vocational education.
Unemployment insurance is a safety net that protects Alaska families
when jobs are scarce. By helping keep workers in Alaska, it ensures
that businesses have experienced workers available. The maximum
unemployment insurance weekly benefit will increase from $248
to $370 beginning Jan. 1, placing Alaska at the midpoint among
states, rather than the fourth lowest in the nation. The benefit
hadn't been raised since 1997. The legislation also protects
the privacy of Alaskans applying for unemployment benefits by
ensuring that claim information remains confidential.
The State Training and Employment Program has been extended for
two years. Operated by the department of labor, the program has
trained more than 24,000 Alaska workers over the last 19 years.
About 94 percent of STEP trainees are employed within 12 months.
STEP participants earned more than $71 million in Alaska wages
in the year following their training. And this program is providing
a long-term benefit more than 90 percent of STEP participants
remain in Alaska.
Businesses now have an incentive to support vocational education.
Effective Jan. 1, the education tax credits to cover contributions
up to $150,000 will be extended to include secondary school vocational
programs and state-operated vocational and technical schools
in Alaska. The credit had been only for contributions to two-
and four-year colleges and universities. The credit can now be
used against these taxes: insurance, corporate income, oil and
producer, oil and gas property, mining license, fisheries business
or fishery resource landing.
The allocation to the Technical Vocational Education Account
has been increased and the funds can be distributed to a wider
range of training facilities.
But we have more work ahead of us.
At over 6 percent our unemployment rate is higher than it should
be and this hardship is concentrated in certain regions,
industries and populations, such as people with disabilities.
The department of labor will continue to improve our services
to prepare unemployed and underemployed workers. We are also
working harder to close the gap, to train Alaskans for the high-paying
jobs that currently go to non-residents.
Alaska has grown by developing its natural resources the
decline in our oil production makes it imperative for our state
to pursue new and expanded industrial opportunities. The AGIA
gasline license authorized by the Legislature creates a platform
for long-term growth and prosperity. Now is the time to plant
and carefully tend, if we are to harvest a future of good jobs
for Alaska's sons and daughters.
Alaskans should have the right
to get good jobs not by heading south, but in our hometowns
in our home state. We should not have to abandon family and heritage,
and the land we love, to earn a future.
About: "Bishop, a life-long
Alaskan, serves as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor
and Workforce Development."
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