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Former educator advocates for technical careers

SITKA, ALASKA
He reassured the audience that even his own two kids, who grew up in Sitka, could not – outside of seafood – identify the state’s “process industries.”

“Most of the process industries are a mystery for them. What are these industries really about? What do people actually do in this industry? What does it mean to be a process technician? It’s as remote for them as it is for a student in Koliganek. Probably because they don’t have a parent or relative who works in the industry, so they don’t get that first-hand knowledge. And outside of coming to a career event like this they don’t have any experience with it.”

Bergman said the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium had fifty-five member companies, involved in everything from agriculture to healthcare to mining and power generation. APICC’s primary mission as a nonprofit is to provide standardized health, safety, and environmental training for Alaska’s oil and gas operators.

Lately though, the organization has branched out into advocacy for technical careers. After thirty-years of oil production on the North Slope, Bergman said worker retirement is opening the way for newcomers.

“One of our companies will be hiring one hundred new process techs a year for the next five years. That’s just one company. So, the training potential is there, the ability and the availability are there, it’s just a matter of awareness. How do we get students aware that these programs exist? I think that’s where the disconnect is, because for a lot of us who didn’t grow up around the industry, we’re very disconnected in terms of what the real opportunities are.”

Bergman outlined several of APICC’s outreach programs for students. Teacher Industry Externships (TIE) puts teachers to work in various industries for two weeks during summer. The teachers are paid a stipend, and receive three college credits. Alaska Engineering Academies is essentially a mini-technical course-in-a-suitcase, which can travel to any community in the state. Bergman said these programs were intended to show kids that good jobs were in reach, without necessarily a full-blown college degree.

“All of it requires some form of post-secondary training. We often tell kids, You’ve got to go to college, to get a career, to move forward. This is no different in that sense. What is different is that this is not a four-year degree, this is a two-year technical degree. High wage? Yes. Career long? Yes. BP mentioned to me the other day that they’ve got an average age of fifty-four for their process techs. Most of those folks are eligible to retire right now. So it’s just a matter of when they choose to do it. Even if the industry were not to grow, and stayed flat for the next several years, there’s still ample opportunity.”

Bergman told the audience members that they should encourage students to think regionally. If a student wanted to live in Southeast, he or she should consider jobs that were in demand regionally. He also pointed out that North Slope workers, with a typical two-week-on, two-week-off schedule, could live in any community in the state.

 “These careers are there. They’re in our backyard. It’s just a matter of are we willing to step out of that zone where you get in your car and two minutes later you’re at work every day. Or, can we learn to work in a different way? If we can learn to work in a different way, there’s ample opportunity all around us.” Just prior to his visit to Sitka and the World of Work fair, Bergman stopped in Juneau to meet with the Alaska Workforce Investment Board to discuss APICC programs. On his return to Anchorage, he said he had plans to meet with the new Commissioner of Education Mike Hanley.
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