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DOT struggles to find qualified help

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Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 12:25 am | Updated: 12:27 am, Wed Nov 6, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is having trouble finding qualified entry-level employees, and Commissioner Pat Kemp is concerned the situation will only get worse.

Kemp spoke at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon on Tuesday, and said developing a workforce is among his biggest concerns. He said changing interests, tight competition and drug-testing requirements have put a crimp on the supply of young workers.

“It’s hard to find new talent out there,” he said.

Kemp said the University of Alaska system has done a good job of addressing a shortage of engineers, which was once the biggest concern for DOT. It’s the “nuts and bolts guys” — equipment operators and mechanics — that he said are in short supply today. He said training centers are making an effort to provide those workers, but said more needs to be invested in the system to help the state keep up with demand.

He said it’s tough finding employees who are capable of doing DOT’s varied tasks, which may require knowledge of airport regulations, hazardous materials and use of chemicals. He also said there seem to be fewer young people who are interested in the types of jobs DOT offers than there were a generation ago.

One unexpected factor, he said, is that many entry-level workers can’t pass the drug test required to get a commercial driver’s license. DOT is considering putting signs on pieces of heavy equipment at some public events, reminding students that their choices today could limit their career options in the future.

“That was eye-opening to me,” he said. “The consensus was you needed to get in there lower and let kids know the consequences of that.”

If a gasline is eventually built in Alaska, the situation for the state agency will be dire, Kemp said. The pipeline is expected to require 12,000 employees or more, and DOT and others that rely on heavy-equipment operators will struggle to keep their workers, he said.

“It’s going to take a lot of jobs,” he said. “There’s fierce competition for those jobs.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter:

@FDNMbusiness.

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