Workforce plan aims to attract Alaskans to fisheries, seafood and maritime careers

Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Players in Alaska’s widespread maritime industry have taken a big step toward hammering out the details of a statewide workforce development plan.

The document recommends a series of strategies that support current and future workers in areas deemed most critical, whether at a seafood processing plant, a shipyard, on the fishing grounds or in a diesel mechanic shop. Identified priorities are:

  • Growing career awareness;
  • Developing career pathways;
  • Improving access to employment;
  • Training Alaskans for fisheries, seafood and maritime employment;
  • And improving industry engagement and accountability.

The Fisheries, Seafood and Maritime Workforce Development Plan has been developed over the past two years and continues to involve the input of seafood processors, commercial fishing associations, state and federal agencies, independent vessel operators, marine support industries, University of Alaska representatives and regional training providers. An occupational needs-assessment was used to determine critical jobs and prioritize strategies to fill them with Alaskans. The plan identifies actions and partners who can work together to avoid duplication and deliver the right training to the right people in the right communities. It provides educators the details needed to develop curricula and outlines an outreach plan for people interested in such careers.

“I’ve been with the university for eight years and have been involved in multiple workforce development plans; from my perspective this is the first time that a workforce development plan has been built with this much industry input,” said Fred Villa, associate vice president of workforce development at the University of Alaska.

In a meeting of the Industry Advisory Committee Oct. 31, participants identified priority occupations and the resources needed to provide training. The group identified six-month, one-year and two-year priorities.

“It was great to finally get a mix of educators, trainers and industry together. For those of us on the industry and informal training side, it was good to get an introduction to the challenges of coordinating different trainers outside the university system, as well as the opportunity to learn more from Jeff Johnston (Director, UAS Sitka) about the growing Fisheries Technology program within the University of Alaska Southeast,” said Julie Decker of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.

There’s a big reason why the university decided to lead the effort to produce a job-ready workforce for these industries: In 2012, Alaska produced over 5 billion pounds of seafood--more than 57 percent of what was produced in the entire nation. This summer for the first time, Alaska surpassed a billion pounds of salmon alone. The human capital required is immense, but there are not enough Alaskans entering the workforce to maintain this industry into the future.

“This industry does not involve just a couple of people--it’s an army of people doing it,” said Kris Norosz, government affairs director at Icicle Seafood Inc. and co-chair of the Fisheries, Seafood and Maritime Industry Advisory Committee. “We need to ensure that we can continue this into the future. This whole effort to develop a Workforce Development Plan isn’t just about putting people to work. It’s about strengthening communities.”

Continued connection between industry, government and educators to implement the plan is vital.

UA President Pat Gamble explained to the group how the university identified fisheries, seafood and maritime workforce development as priority topics to focus on over the next few years. » He said a gap analysis was conducted and focused on finding out from employers what skills are required for positions in their industries. The university intends to refocus its partnerships with AVTEC and regional training centers to provide workforce training that meets those requirements.

“This plan will be used by policy makers,” said Norosz. “All these different audiences don’t know our industries. We need them to understand why this is important to us, why it is needed and how it’s going to benefit Alaska and Alaskans. We want their help to implement it.”


For a copy of the latest workforce plan, go to http://www.alaska.edu/files/fsmi/FSMI_WFD_Plan_Draft_10.19.13.pdf

For more information, call Paula Cullenberg, Director Alaska Sea Grant College Program, at 907-274-9692 or email her at paula.cullenberg@alaska.edu