Rural and urban Alaska can be very different worlds, and skills used in constructing buildings or maintaining equipment in one might not apply to the other. For example, most rural Alaskan communities use fuel oil for heating, while cities largely use natural gas. Most rural homes use metal roofing, while urban homes use shingles. This week, a new partnership of urban trainers and rural workers is seeing if it can take what’s taught in urban Alaska and create an apprenticeship program for rural communities.
Bruce Bold coordinates the Sheet Metal Workers Union’s Local #23 Apprenticeship Program in Anchorage. Last winter, he was at a conference when he struck up a conversation with a lady from a rural area.
“And she was talking about some of the issues in rural Alaska that they’re running into,” Bold said. “A lot of it was maintenance-type issues on maintaining equipment.”
And Bold thought, “Hey, we offer that training. How can we get it to rural Alaska?” Then he started talking with contractors about how they’d like to be able to hire locally in rural regions.
Bold said they were on board. “They’re like, ‘Wow, if I had someone local I could put on a job instead of flying a guy out there, paying him per diem, paying for his plane ticket, especially for a small job.'”
Some contractors, Bold found out, won’t bid on certain rural jobs because they can’t find qualified local workers.
With that, Bold reached out to Bob Marquez, who runs the mechanic and welder program for the Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF).
CVRF is part of Alaska’s groundfish Community Development Quota Program and is tasked with economically developing the area’s coastal communities.
Bold knew there was a need for rural Alaska training, but he didn’t know what that training needed to be. Marquez agreed to send a group of CVRF mechanics and welders to Anchorage for three days to help him figure that out.
“They’re learning what our needs are, and what’s valuable for education and training. And we’re learning from them. So this really is a test,” Marquez said. “We want to see how it benefits our employees, and furthermore, how it’ll benefit the residents of the communities.”
The hope is to shape a sheet metal and service technician apprenticeship program for rural Alaska. More contractors could then hire locally in rural areas.
Bold says that everything is in the preliminary stages, but the program could begin as a pilot project with CVRF.