The State of Alaska, the University of Alaska and representatives from the Alaskan fisheries, seafood and marine industries created a plan to increase the number of in state residents working in maritime careers. The Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan aims to create and educate a substantially Alaskan workforce in the maritime sector.
The director of the Alaska Sea Grant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Paula Cullenberg said two years ago the university created the Fishery Seafood Maritime Initiative, or F-S-M-I, to find out what the maritime industry needed.
“The industry came back and said ‘well, you know we would like some kind of a comprehensive plan that looks at not just what the university does but what training centers like Aztec or SAVEC could do, what the industry itself could do, what state agencies like the Department of Labor, we would just like to look at this a little more collectively.’ And so about a year and a half ago there was a request for a state wide plan.”
The F-S-M-I conducted surveys among commercial fishermen, seafood processors, researchers and maritime business and trade workers. The surveys showed that of the almost 31 thousand permit holding commercial fishermen, only 56% are residents of Alaska. The resulting data led to the Maritime Workforce Development Plan that is calling for Alaskans to become educated and trained in these fields. This is director of government affairs at Icicle Seafoods, Inc., Kris Norosz.
“We have lots of employment opportunities throughout Alaska, the problem is finding Alaskans with the training and experience to fill those positions.”
She agreed to help the Maritime Workforce Development find ways to get maritime careers to Alaskans.
“I think that it would be difficult to fill every position in all these different industry sectors with Alaskans. I just don’t know that there would be enough of us. But we certainly can help focus in hiring Alaskans for the skilled higher paying jobs and that’s the focus of this workforce development plan.”
Cullenberg says the University of Alaska doesn’t currently offer directed training needed for maritime jobs.
“Right now if you want to get trained as a seafood processor in ammonia refrigeration, which is what everyone uses around the state, you need to go out of state.”
Education and training is a priority in the Maritime Workforce Development Plan. It states that “coordinated training between K-12 educators, regional training centers, and the University of Alaska is needed to prepare high school students for additional training or work in the maritime sector.”
Another goal of the Maritime Workforce Development is to increase the number of young adults in skilled jobs. Norosz says a younger work force needs to be developed.
“We need to pass on the skills from the people who are set to retire in the next ten years and make sure that we have the next generation coming up behind us to take these positions.”
State Representative Bryce Edgmon from Dillingham agrees. In 2011, he and the House Fisheries Committee introduced resolution that would start the conversation about the aging permit holders and vessel owners.
“From that resolution, as the committee went through that discussion, the bill actually changed into a vehicle that would help support the university’s effort to study and to develop a comprehensive maritime workforce plan as well as sort of a strategic document looking into the future.”
The Maritime Workforce Development Plan has been written and there is an overall consensus that educating young adults residing in Alaska is the best way to prosper. But what’s next? Norosz says the first step is getting the word out to universities, the Department of Education, online and training facilities.
“We’re going to be working hard all summer on this. And particularly in the fall, we’re going to be reconvening the industry advisory committee to help map out which steps we’re going to be taking throughout the year.”
So far, a quality control curriculum is set up to be available this November in Kodiak.