Community Perspective

UAA helps build workforce capacity

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Alaskans’ lives and impacted our economy in ways we never could have imagined, leaving many people unemployed and struggling financially.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports Alaska’s job count was down 12.2% in May from the same month last year, a loss of more than 42,000 jobs.

Some jobs have been impossible to perform during the pandemic due to workplace restrictions on in-person staffing. Demand for other services has dwindled as Anchorage residents limit their activities to those deemed essential, such as purchasing groceries and household supplies.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, new job opportunities have unexpectedly emerged, particularly in the health care sector. The need for skilled contact tracing investigators to identify individuals exposed to COVID-19 has skyrocketed. Other jobs, such as those in the IT sector, have remained in demand; hiring increases in other sectors are likely to be needed as organizations across the state reopen.

At the University of Alaska Anchorage, university leaders have been listening to feedback from industry partners and state and local officials regarding real-time employment needs.

When Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services approached UAA in May with the request to facilitate training for COVID-19 contact tracing investigators, the university mobilized immediately, launching training the first week of June. The project coordination between the state and the university is building local workforce capacity and relationships to respond to infectious disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies both now and in the future.

This fall, UAA will offer a suite of Fast Track Career Certificates based on current and emerging state economic trends. The certificates will help Alaskans retool rapidly and acquire new skills to re-enter the workforce or build upon existing skills in their chosen field.

Certificates will focus on areas like petroleum production, bookkeeping, entrepreneurship, construction, infant and toddler development, automotive repair and maintenance, web engineering and more. The fields were chosen based on careers anticipated to remain in-demand in Alaska with average salaries ranging from $25,000 to $62,000.

Even more impressive: UAA administrators have pivoted to develop these certificates with the resources at hand, while facing a budget crisis. They have identified and sequenced existing courses to facilitate efficient, time-sensitive delivery to expedite education, training and workforce entry.

As we look to the future of our city and state, UAA continues to play an integral role. The university is one of our greatest resources, and it stands ready to innovate as we rebuild a strong foundation for the coming months and years.

Our Anchorage university will continue to support our students and workforce through the pandemic and its economic fallout. It’s about time we asked ourselves: What can we do to support our university?

Bill Popp is president and CEO of Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

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