OUR SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR REFLECTS ON THE LACK OF SKILLED WORKERS IN ALASKA
By ART CHANCE
I spent much of my adult life across bargaining tables and in hearing rooms arguing with unions over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.
The unions, some of them anyway, like to accuse me of being anti-union, but I’m not anti-union, when they are in their role of representing employees in matters of wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. After all, I grew up in the South and I’ve seen how employers will behave in a friendly legal environment and with a labor surplus. I wouldn’t want to be an hourly worker non-union, even in Alaska.
I am, however, very anti-union when they assume the role of a Socialist workers’ party with the right to compel political contributions.
Today much of America’s unskilled and semi-skilled workforce would love to have an 8-hour day rather than the four- or six-hour day and two jobs to which Obamacare has sentenced them.
This Labor Day is a good time to think about the deteriorating Alaska workforce and working conditions.
Every time Pomp and Circumstance gets played, Alaska gets a bit dumber. Our best and brightest go Outside to college and the only ones who come back for more than a visit are those with a family situation they can step into.
We are graduating kids who are at best semi-literate and who have zero work skills. Throw in the amount of drug use and we’re producing a workforce that lacks fundamental work habits and skills, and because of drug use cannot be employed in any safety sensitive job.
Employers willing to put up with the low quality workforce can hire at the minimum wage and those with some concern for Workers’ Compensation costs can pay a dollar or two more and require drug testing. You cannot live on the minimum wage or even a dollar or two more anywhere in Alaska except in your parents’ house or piled in with a bunch of others similarly situated in an apartment in a bad part of town.
And, no, the answer isn’t to raise the minimum wage.
At this time of celebrating those who labor, we should be concerned that the last time labor force participation rate in the US was so low — in the early Seventies — a large number of women began to enter the workforce.
I’ve never looked at Alaska specific workforce participation rates, but it must be abysmal Statewide and disastrous in rural Alaska. And it isn’t going to get any better unless we take steps to produce a more skilled workforce.
If you’re a entry level or low/semi-skill worker, only your personal pride causes you to take the jobs that are available to you in the private sector. If you can’t get an entry-level government job, and the competition is intense, you’re better off on welfare than working two or three lousy jobs to try to support yourself.
Frankly, if you go to college and come out with some general studies/liberal arts degree, you’re still an entry level or low/semi-skilled applicant and they’re a dime a dozen, though the degree might give you a little advantage in getting a government job.
There really isn’t much to celebrate about labor in Alaska unless you are a high-skill worker or have a unionized government job. The unions, particularly the building trades unions that were once the most powerful force in Alaska politics, have all but abandoned doing anything other than protecting their niche. They should be desperately concerned about their diminishing ability to send a qualified employee when one of the few remaining unionized employers calls the hall.
Young people are trying to enter the workforce with no skills and no clue as to what is expected from an employee. Just as the University of Alaska has to provide remedial courses before Alaska graduates can even take college level classes, themselves dumbed down already, the unions that have apprenticeship programs have to teach their apprentices what work is before they can teach them the skills of their trade.
They need to help do something about it, but so far they seem content with the status quo and are allied with the teachers’ unions in maintaining that status quo.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is both a Republican and a Democrat, but neither. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites but he has not apologized.