FSMI Forum

Forum participants listen to an overview of break-out discussions involving proposed programs in fishing, seafood and maritime studies and hear insight on training needs not being addressed by the university at this time.

Industry Leaders Use Opportunity to Guide UA Workforce Development Programs

Second UA Alaska Joint Fisheries Seafood Maritime Workforce Forum

Story and photos by Monique Musick

Creating the best possible model for delivering fisheries, seafood and maritime (FSM) education is the driving force behind the Fisheries Seafood Maritime Initiative (FSMI). Alaska has some of the best managed fisheries industries in the world, famous seafood, a diverse maritime industry and is home to critical marine research. There is an opportunity for the University of Alaska to become the global leader for coldwater education in these fields. By partnering with industry leaders UA can successfully develop world-class programs for FSM workforce development.

University leadership, including rural and community campus directors, had an opportunity to listen to industry leaders during the second Alaska Joint Fisheries Seafood Maritime Workforce Forum held October 2 in Anchorage. The meeting represents an effort for continuing dialogue to help guide the university in enhancing program offerings for workforce development in these important Alaska job sectors.

The collaboration between the university and these industry leaders began in 2011 during a Seafood Summit convened by the Governor of Alaska along with the Chair of the Rasmuson Foundation and the President of the University of Alaska. The university was charged with overseeing a coordinated effort to develop educational opportunities that support Alaska industry in these sectors.

The importance of industry engagement cannot be overstated. The university needs to know what job skills and training is needed before programs designed to fill those needs can be identified. One of the results of this day-long forum was that industry partners have agreed to contribute to a comprehensive industry occupational needs assessment. The group also decided that an Industry Advisory Committee should be established to oversee the collection and analysis of workforce data and training needs. The committee would work with the university to identify the areas of greatest need.

A comprehensive education and training inventory of programs currently offered at UA campuses is available for review on the Fisheries Seafood Maritime Initiative website www.alaska.edu/fsmi/reports-documents and was shared with industry partners at the forum. Approximately 200 courses are currently offered by the university system related specifically to fisheries, seafood and maritime education and training. Additionally non-credit workshops and short courses on topics like seafood product quality and safety, fishing technology and marketing are offered as-needed at campuses around the state. Collectively the programs offered within the system meet many of the education and training needs of prospective employees in these industries, but the course offerings lack coordination and a cohesive identity and are not organized in clear career pathways. In order to better identify the gaps between educational offerings and industry training needs, the McDowell Group was hired to conduct a gap analysis.

Scott Miller of the McDowell Group presented the gap analysis findings to forum attendees. (See his presentation here.) The findings are summarized in the Education and Training Gap Analysis for the Fisheries, Seafood, Maritime Workforce Report available on the FSMI site. One of the big challenges to identifying the needs of the fisheries, seafood and maritime sectors is to define the industries in the first place. There are more than 800 different occupational codes that apply to FSM jobs making it difficult to gather meaningful employment data of such diverse industries. Miller was able to identify about 500 firms, not counting sole-proprietors, currently in FSM industries in the state and over 68,000 workers, not including researchers, currently employed in these sectors. Most of those jobs are in commercial fishing and seafood processing, a distant third is water transportation followed by sport-fish guiding. Other major employers included ship building and repair, hatcheries or aquaculture, and marine engineering. Government agencies such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Coast Guard are significant employers as well.

Key training needs identified by the McDowell Group’s research are in areas such as safety, maintenance and regulations. Recommendations for attracting students and delivering the needed training include networking with existing training providers, developing career ladders and adapting training and program schedules to the locations and schedules of the people in these industries.   Delivering education where and when it is needed will be key. Attracting students into the programs presents a challenge, and it will require outreach and marketing and close collaboration with K-12 education to attract youth to these professions.

Dr. Gunnar Knapp, economics professor for UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research and member of the FSMI leadership committee, presented a summary of his research into education approaches internationally. View his summary presentation online here. Supported by funding from the Rasmuson Foundation, Knapp reviewed seafood and fishing industry education in places with similar industries to Alaska including Newfoundland, Iceland, Norway, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. While no other country provides an exact match of Alaska’s industry, educational structure and society, there are valuable lessons to be learned regarding course design and program delivery.

Knapp’s report emphasizes the importance of industry involvement in education and training on many levels. They provide crucial input on the kinds of skills and training needed for employment. Hands-on experiences are very important, and industry partners assist by providing field experience, access to facilities and student internships. On the job training is crucial to FSM industries.

Knapp pointed out that globally the seafood industry faces significant challenges including declining interest in seafood careers, growing dependence on non-local and foreign workers and fewer students enrolling in seafood education and training programs.

The nature of seafood and fisheries education is itself changing rapidly. There is a greater emphasis on online course delivery and short courses. The seasonal nature of many FSM professions make it hard to study during traditional semester-based timelines. Online training is increasingly global. This provides both competition and opportunity for the University of Alaska.

It was established at the summit in December 2011 that both UA President Patrick Gamble and Governor Sean Parnell agree that investment in FSM training is important for the state. House Bill HCR 18, “relating to an examination of fisheries-related programs to facilitate entry of young Alaskans into commercial fisheries careers and to collaboration with the University of Alaska fisheries, seafood and maritime initiative” was passed by the 27th Alaska Legislature and officially dedicated state resources to assist the university in these important efforts. Legislative liasons, including Representative Bryce Edgmon who attended the forum, were appointed to monitor the process. (Read his report on the forum HERE.)

Greg Cashen with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reminded forum attendees that FSM industries are one of the Alaska’s top priorities for investment. State and federal grants are available for career and technical education in these fields. Investment from industry could further leverage funds in support of apprenticeship programs or other projects. The time is right for collaborative efforts to develop training in these areas—and there is money available to help.

Even though FSMI is still in early phases, proposals from UA campuses were selected by FSMI leadership for consideration by the UA Board of Regents for inclusion in UA’s FY14 budget request. The proposals address immediate training needs in the state. The proposals were brought before the forum attendees for feedback. Three groups representing fisheries, seafood and maritime industries were asked to rate and prioritize UA’s proposed programs. The groups were moderated by university administrators who brought the groups’ discussion notes and priorities back to the large group in the afternoon. In some cases the groups selected proposals they thought should be brought forward in the budget—in other cases the groups felt that other direction is needed.

A lively and candid discussion took place in the afternoon in which the need to develop a comprehensive workforce development plan lead by an industry advisory committee was clearly stated. There was some concern that bringing forward these early program proposals outside the long-term view of a comprehensive plan could be risky. On the other hand some of the proposals provide immediate relief for recognized needs and should be acted upon. Continued support and collaboration with industry, the Department of Labor and the Department of Education will be crucial as the initiative works toward creation of a comprehensive plan.

Based on the feedback and discussions that followed, the FSMI leadership team decided to work immediately to establish an industry advisory committee. Industry forum participants agreed to submit comprehensive data on their employment opportunities and the skills and training required for those positions. The budget request to UA Board of Regents was reduced from approximately one million to just under $400,000 to fund four programs that would strengthen existing programs in high demand, clearly respond to needs identified in the McDowell FSMI Report and to comments at the two industry forums and would have statewide benefits. Any major funding request will be delayed until a comprehensive workforce development plan is completed.

The group is tentatively scheduled to meet again in December. In the mean time the leadership committee, newly formed advisory committee and industry partners will be busy gathering data and outlining a plan that will not only provide Alaskans with job training, but also establish clear paths into rewarding life-long careers vital to the future of fisheries, seafood and maritime industries in the state.

More information about the Fisheries, Seafood and Maritime Initiative can be found at www.alaska.edu/fsmi/ .

Back to Top