Q&A with Jim Johnsen, president, university of Alaska.


Alaska Business Monthly: One goal of the University of Alaska's Strategic Pathways is to develop a highly skilled workforce for Alaska jobs. How many students will graduate from the University of Alaska this May?

Jim Johnsen: While we won't have exact numbers until late May, we anticipate approximately 4,700 students to graduate from the University of Alaska (UA) in 2017. We're very proud of our graduates and we look forward to watching them grow into Alaska's next generation of leaders. That said, there's more we need to do. Our state is currently facing a variety of challenges, and we believe that education and innovation will drive the change that we need to build the Alaska of tomorrow. The single most important factor in building a competitive and sustainable economy in Alaska is developing our talent. UA does that by providing high quality, affordable, and accessible academic and vocational programs.

By 2025, 65 percent of the jobs in our economy are projected to require workers to have some post-secondary training. The last time this was measured, Alaska met 37 percent of this need. If K-12, vocational programs, other Alaska institutions, and UA education can prepare Alaskans for these jobs, Alaskans will fill them. Otherwise, Alaska will continue to face a shortage of skilled employees and will need to import labor from outside or do without even as unemployment in Alaska continues to rise. We're working to inspire Alaskans to join us in meeting this 65 percent by 2025 goal with a new, privately-funded campaign. Alaskans can find out more and sign up to be part of the change that Alaska needs at www. drivechangeak.org.

ABM: What jobs will they fill in Alaska? How many of those coincide with current labor market demand?

Johnsen: The university system has more than 400 degree and certificate programs and our 2017 graduates will head out into the world with diverse thoughts about what they want to do with their lives.

Healthcare is the sector of the economy that will employ many of our grads. We've seen about 70 percent growth in healthcare graduates and students since 2002, and we expect that sector to continue expanding in the future. About one in every twelve jobs in Alaska is related to healthcare. From 2015 to 2016, healthcare employment increased by 2.6 percent (900 jobs) with modest growth of about 1.4 percent (500 jobs) predicted for this year, according to the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development in the January 2017 Alaska Economic Trends. Opportunities continue to grow in this field throughout the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry added 357,000 jobs nationwide from February 2016 to February 2017.

While there's been contraction in many economic sectors overall, most jobs require some postsecondary training. The University of Alaska holds a unique educational position in the world as America's only Arctic university. Many UA science postgraduates and even undergraduates are already working on research that is shaping the future of the Arctic and beyond.

The Alaska oil and gas market is contracting, but our engineers, oilfield, and mining service professionals continue to find work in Alaska in the resource development industry.

Beyond immediate employment...

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