The University of Alaska and the Alaska Travel Industry Association are looking at new tools to attract more students and young professionals to the state.
TikTok provides one solution, according to AITA president/CEO Sarah Leonard, and Pat Pitney, president of the UA system.
Using the short-form video social media platform, UAA and AITA hope to grow Alaska’s pool of potential employees as the state sees an out-migration of both residents and its workforce.
“This was a great collaboration between ATIA and the University of Alaska around how great it is to work, live and play in Alaska,” Leonard said.
The “Day in the Life” videos that highlight the quality experience of attending college in Alaska and working, post-graduation, in the hospitality industry, according to a joint announcement, and are geared toward all three universities and the system’s 13 community campuses.
The videos run through early next year, targeting both traditional and nontraditional students across Alaska and the nation.
A few examples are already live on platform, including a “day in the life” post by Aren Gunderson, mammals collection manager at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North.
“The first thing I get to see in the morning is the bowhead whale skeleton,” Gunderson narrates in a 55-second clip while waving to the skeleton suspended from the museum lobby ceiling. Gunderson takes viewers through a snapshot of his day, including office work, brief introductions to a few museum staff and a tour of the museum’s bone collection lab.
“The museum is a great stop for tourists and jobs like mine help them see the natural wonders,” Gunderson narrates in his video.
The social media campaign hopes to solicit videos from students, alumni and individuals who work in the tourism industry statewide “to showcase how they live and work in Alaska.”
Leonard said TikTok was selected based on its growing popularity among adults from 18 to 30 years old.
“This is certainly a first of its kind recruitment and education campaign tool for our organization. We highlight the overlap of educational opportunities through the University of Alaska and then to stay and work in Alaska in an industry like tourism,” Leonard said.
Pitney said the partnership between education and tourism-related jobs provides a potential powerful tool.
““What’s unique about TikTok being the avenue for this campaign is getting to a certain demographic. It’s designed for the person who wants to travel but isn’t sure what they want to do next,” Pitney said. “This links the two to make Alaska a place to stay.”
Pitney added the goal is to attract “the next best Alaskan.”
“We want people who are interested in what Alaska has to offer, that have a high probability to be in the tourism industry, which is very broad, but more importantly see the opportunity that they can complete their education here.”
One goal Pitney hopes the campaign will achieve includes “more organic” features of “how people have gone through their educational experience.”
“This campaign ties together that market of people that may not know what is possible, think about the adventure of Alaska but might not about the opportunities at the university.”
Pitney added that tourism-related jobs are diverse.
She said her own son, while going through college, “threw bags for Princess in the summers and was an ice climbing guide in McCarthy … and then used his tourism skills to work in recreation on campus.”
The Alaska Department of Labor in its October Trends magazine projects overall tourism industry jobs as a whole will grow by nearly 4% through 2030 — and that’s after the impact the industry took during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, Alaska’s tourism industry shed 9,619 jobs, in large part due to travel restrictions and downturn in travel, health concerns and scrapping the cruise ship season.
“Even before the pandemic, with outward migration and other shifts, we were challenged with our workforce, having folks to fill positions,” Leonard said. “The pandemic and continued out migration certainly exacerbated the situation.
Leonard added collaborations like AITA and University of Alaska can help reverse the trend.
“These types of collaborative partnerships to work across organizations to meet workforce demands and attract people to stay and get their education or visit and then stay and work are a silver lining,” Leonard said. “We’re all addressing it together and we have to try to think of new ways because there’s a shift in how people choose where they live and how they work.”
Pitney agrees that partnerships with other industries are essential to Alaska’s growth and future.
“There’s no employer I’ve talked to that said ‘I have more workers than I need,’” Pitney said. “Everybody is saying they are desperate for strong workers.”
Pitney added she’s heard employers have a preference for UA graduates “because they come, they stay and they know how Alaska works and they’re highly qualified.”
“This [partnership with AITA] is just one partnership where we are coming together and saying there’s an opportunity here,” Pitney said.