In 2006, the Alaska Legislature awarded a $1 million grant to create the Anchorage Construction Academy, a pilot project to recruit, train, and place young people and adults into construction industry jobs. The ACA exceeded everyone’s expectations in preparing participants for an industry in dire need of skilled workers.
The success of the Anchorage Academy in 2007 helped garner the support of Governor Palin and key legislators, resulting in a $3.5 million appropriation to expand Construction Academies to Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan and the Mat-Su Valley. A local chapter of the Alaska State Home Building Association is located in each community.
In 2008, Construction Academies statewide provided career path activities and/or vocational training to 2500 middle and high school students through construction-related classes. More than 329 adults went through one or more Alaska Construction Academy courses. This is good news for an industry whose workforce is dwindling. One thousand new construction workers are needed each year just to keep pace with the retirement of an aging workforce. The prospect of building a natural gas pipeline only adds to the pressure of an industry already strained by a shortage of workers.
“All of our building associations are fired up everywhere,” said Bob Hammer, President of the Alaska Home Builders Association. It’s a win-win model for everyone. Construction Academies serve Alaska’s youth and adults looking for a career in construction, employers looking for qualified workers, and a state wanting to develop a workforce that is ready to build the future of Alaska. “People are coming out of the woodwork to do this. The secret to this whole thing is to provide employment once they’re through with the program.”
Construction Academy training offers two components: One reaches out to high school students; the other to adult learners. Making the most of limited space and instructors, the Construction Academies allow school districts to offer extended school hours for students as well as evening and weekend classes for adults. High school students receive high school credit and, in some cases, college credit for the courses. The adult component offers training in the evenings and on Saturdays so that adults can continue their regular jobs while they learn skills for a new career in construction. Both students and adults receive hands-on training by experts in the construction trades. Graduates of the academies can either go to work in entry level jobs to gain experience, become apprentices and receive paid on-the-job training, or continue their education with post-secondary training.
The training is funded through the grant from the Alaska Legislature and is free to participants. The program is delivered through partnerships between Associated General Contractors (AGC), the Alaska State Home Building Association (ASHBA), Alaska Works Partnership (AWP), Alaska Department of Labor Workforce Development, local school districts, and local workforce development partners. Local job centers are helping recruit and screen applicants.
Construction Academies are giving participants new opportunities to explore a construction trade that can lead to high-paying, high-demand construction careers. At the same time, Alaska’s Construction Academies are offering employers a fresh supply of skilled workers for an industry vital to Alaska’s economy.