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Community Perspective

The value of university workforce development programs

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Quantifying the impact of postsecondary education on the workforce across Alaska industries has long-been a challenge for the state and university.

In an effort to address this, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development partnered with the University of Alaska to create workforce reports that demonstrate UA graduate outcomes in 10 key industries: administration and finance, aviation, construction, fisheries and marine science, health, information technology, mining, oil and gas, and teacher education. Each report highlights the largest and fastest-growing occupations within each industry that require postsecondary education, average wages earned over time, the percentage of graduates employed across Alaska’s six economic regions, what industries they work in, and how they contribute to the Alaska hire rate. More than 17,700 UA graduates over a 10-year period were included in the report data, and 96.3% are working in Alaska today averaging $69K annually. The reports can be found at https://www.alaska.edu/research/wd/reports.php.

The two organizations have worked together for years to identify where in the state university graduates hold jobs and how much money they earn. Detailed employment and wage information is derived from quarterly reports that Alaska employers are required to file under state employment insurance law. The resulting wage data is then matched through a comprehensive process with UA graduates who remain and work in Alaska. The data represents actual wages earned instead of data from surveys, estimates or standardized average wages from specific occupations.

The economic value of training and education is abundantly clear in the resulting data. Higher education increases income, increases Alaska hire rates, and increases retention. Median earnings, for example, jump from $35,328 for high school graduates to $44,619 for Alaskans with an associate degree, $57,708 for those with a bachelor’s degree, and $77,402 for holders of graduate or professional degrees. More education and training also correlate strongly with lower unemployment rates. UA provides 92% of postsecondary education in Alaska.

As Alaska’s most comprehensive provider of workforce training, the university plays a critical role in meeting state and regional workforce needs. Through continued partnership with the Dept. of Labor and a focus on data-driven decision-making, UA continues to develop and support more than 200 workforce training programs that respond to real-time employment shortages and projected occupational demand across Alaska’s six economic regions. Each region is unique in its local economy and mix of occupations. UA’s regional universities and community campuses help ensure that all Alaskans have the opportunity to attain the knowledge and skills needed for employment and career advancement within their communities.

Industry partnerships across Alaska’s workforce sectors strengthen the university’s graduate outcomes by providing hands-on opportunities for students, guiding program development to ensure alignment with industry standards, serving on advisory boards to improve training outcomes, providing program or scholarship funding, and employing graduates. Information represented in these reports will help facilitate conversations with industry and strengthen partnerships to enhance how UA workforce programs can be developed, expanded, or modified to better meet industry’s needs. In addition, these reports demonstrate employment outcomes of UA graduates that can enhance recruitment into and retention in workforce programs that lead to rewarding careers in Alaska.

The university will continue partnering with the state to update these reports every two years. Feedback will further refine and expand these reports. Future data will include valuable resources for evaluating current programs and supporting the development or expansion of programs to meet Alaska’s high-demand and regional workforce needs now and into the future.

Teri Cothren is the associate vice president with the University of Alaska and has been working with secondary, postsecondary, and industry partners for more than 13 years to help train Alaskans for jobs in Alaska.

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