Initiative aims to grow Alaskan shipyard workforce

The Alaska Class ferry Tazlina outside the assembly hall at Vigor Alaska The Alaska Class ferry Tazlina outside the assembly hall at Vigor Alaska

JANUARY 30, 2017—American shipbuilding and ship repair company Vigor, along with leaders of Alaska’s maritime industry, Maritime Works, jointly announced plans for an innovative training program aimed at developing an advanced manufacturing workforce comprised of Alaska residents. 

Called Advancing Alaskan Workers, the public private philanthropic initiative is aimed at mitigating the high turnover rates seen at the Ketchikan shipyard and elsewhere that result when non-Alaskans are recruited to fill the critical skills gap in Alaska. 

In 2016, Vigor employed 191 people at the Ketchikan Shipyard (KSY) in Ketchikan, AK, up substantially from just 21 employees in 1994. With contracts to build two Alaska-class ferries for the Alaska Marine Highway System—and other large projects forecasted for the future—Vigor and Maritime Works are taking proactive steps to build a skilled local workforce to meet the demand.

The 280 ft long Alaska Class ferries, due for delivery in 2018, will carry up to 300 passengers and 53 standard vehicles. They are the first AMHS ferries built in Alaska. As of mid-December, 15 modules had been built and four others were under construction at the shipyard for the first ship.

“The maritime sector holds great promise for the future of our state,” says Doug Ward, Director of Shipyard Development at Vigor. “To realize that promise we must have a stable, best-in-class Alaska resident workforce which will enable us to win more contracts and in turn provide a steady flow of work for our community.”

The Advancing Alaskan Workers project offers structured on-the-job training, leading to industry-recognized credentials and family wage careers.

“This is key to providing sustainable opportunities for Alaskans in the Ketchikan workforce as well as providing Vigor’s current workforce a path for upgrading skills, advancing to leadership positions and higher earnings,” says Cari-Ann Carty, spokesperson for Maritime Works. Carty is the Executive Director of the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium (APICC), an industry backed nonprofit, which serves as staff and fiscal agent for Maritime Works.

Vigor, which employs about 2,500 workers at its 10 facilities in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, has long been a leader in training the next generation of maritime and industrial workers, developing curriculum, partnering with educational institutions and providing structured on the job training. Joining forces with Maritime Works in Alaska is an important next step for growing its work in Alaska.

Advancing Alaskan Workers is only one initiative aimed at increasing the number of Alaskans employed in the Maritime Sector. The employers leading Maritime Works are investing in innovative programs to address a shortage of qualified Alaskan workers in seafood harvesting, processing, and marine transportation. They are pooling industry dollars with public funds, and partnering with other stakeholders—such as the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the University of Alaska, Alaska Construction Academies, Alaska Native groups, and others—to strengthen the local workforce. 

The program at the Ketchikan Shipyard is already a hit with workers, with more than 50 employees registering in just the first week. "My goal is to learn as much as I can and make myself indispensable," says Paul Fletcher, a machinist, crane operator, and shipbuilder at Vigor.


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