Closing the gap: Alaska's mining, oil service and health care industries face challenge of meeting employment needs.

Author:Komancheck, Wendy

The challenge of finding enough employees to fill crucial slots in any industry can reach crisis proportions. Presently, Alaska's mining, oil service and health care industries are facing challenges of finding qualified and experienced help within their individual business ranks. It's good news for Alaska's economy that unemployment in these sectors is low. But, it is a challenge for those who are responsible for finding suitable candidates to meet the job needs that are created each year within these respective industries.

Part of the challenge lies with seasonal work. According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Research, and Analysis Section, in their December 2006 edition of Alaska Economic Trends, "The amplitude of Alaska's seasonal variation is significantly greater than in other states or the nation as a whole. In other words, the percentage difference between Alaska's seasonal high and low points are much greater than it is anywhere else in the country."

In order to fill in the gap, industries need to sometimes hire non-Alaskans to cover the jobs. A lot of times this is done through recruiting, temporary hires and advertising through trade magazines and newspapers that reach people in the Lower 48.


It's not just recruiting, interviewing and training the new hires that are the problems. Oftentimes, people need to apprentice in some of these industries. Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association (Anchorage), says, "Employers are having difficulty finding employees to fill jobs in two areas: Underground miners because of the skill package those folks need. You just can't train for the job-people spend years to learn how to do the job safely and effectively."

Secondly, the mining business is booming in the coal and metals markets. For the third year in a row, base and precious metals, along with coal, are running on the same price cycle, meaning that, in years past, the base and precious metals cycled in opposite price dips and surges from coal. Now, all of that has changed, and all three are on the same cycle of steady prices, without fluctuations of higher or lower prices occurring in the near future.

In regard to the lack of qualified hires for underground mining, Borell says, "We have lost a generation. There were two decades of depressed mining. All of the young people left because there weren't any jobs. The result is that there is not a large pool of people...

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