In a dim classroom, a career counselor is meeting with 20 or so upperclassmen at Wrangell High School. The counselor gives examples of young people she’s helped find jobs. She cites wages, $20 an hour, $25 an hour, to entice the students. But they are keenly aware of what’s up against them.
I asked senior David Guggenbickler what he plans to do after graduating high school.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” he said. “That’s what everyone asks and I haven’t put enough effort into finding that out yet. I don’t know what the right job would be.”
Barbara Brown works for the Ketchikan Job Center as part of the Alaska Department of Labor. The center serves Southeast Alaska communities south of Juneau. She met with folks in Wrangell to polish resumes and practice interviewing. She also wants to give a picture of what jobs are in demand in Alaska.
Alaska has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate is about seven percent, which is the same for Wrangell.
But Brown insists there are jobs for qualified individuals in certain industries. Healthcare is one of the fastest growing markets, according to the department’s recent 10-year forecast.
Brown spends much of her time talking about skilled-trade jobs. Those include plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and welders.
She said a college degree isn’t necessary for a career, but usually some vocational training is needed. Brown connects job seekers to job training programs.
“We want Alaskans to have the skills for the good paying jobs,” Brown said.
Federal funds and monies from the state’s unemployment insurance fund go to the job center to bring more people back into the workforce.
“Maybe they need to upgrade to keep their job. Maybe an incumbent worker has been told you no longer have the skills for this job we’ll need to let you go,” Brown said.
Brown can help job seekers find apprenticeships and on the job training. The program works with employers who are willing to hire folks that don’t yet have the necessary skills for the job. Employees get hands on training while being paid. And the program subsidizes employers by paying half of the new employee’s salary for the first six months or so.
The department also runs the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, known as AVTEC. It’s basically a college campus for students pursuing information technology, maritime training and other tech and trade jobs.
Aimee Romeijn is the counselor for Wrangell’s middle and high school. She said it’s an even split, with some kids pursuing vocational training and others attending a four-year university. She said some are taking a gap year.
“It’s a hard choice and it’s a challenge, and I just encourage them to talk to their parents. Talk to different people to say, what’s it like to be in your career field, you know, what do you love about your job,” Romeijn said. “Because ultimately we want kids to find something, they love to do.”
I tell Romeijn I would hate to be a senior in high school again, wondering what I should do.
“Part of that process is that they just switch one day they just decide ‘Nope I don’t want to do that anymore and I want to go into this.’ But even then they’re going to switch again,” Romeijn said. “It’s a tough age and we switched a lot to finally find out what we wanted to do.”
Job Seekers can call the Ketchikan Job Center at (907) 228-3248 or visit alexsys.dol.alaska.gov to find job opportunities and labor market information.