The crunch in filling skilled blue collar jobs in Alaska is becoming more serious.Dick Cattanach, executive director of Associated General Contractors, the construction industry’s trade association, says his industry will have to recruit about 1,000 young Alaskans a year into training to meet the expected needs of contractors over the next four years.This assumes the industry’s current load of projects and some expected modest growth, but not a large project like a gas pipeline or a missile defense program, Cattanach said.That’s about one in six Alaska high school graduates.The problem isn’t just in construction. It’s across the work force. Oil and gas companies, who have an aging work force of process facility operators on the North Slope, are seriously concerned.AGC, unions in the building trades and the major industries that operate plants and other process facilities are now doing something about the work force problem.The Alaska Process Industries Careers Consortium, formed two years ago to facilitate training for process operators, is now expanding its scope to other technical occupations in short supply and will also promote training in the construction industry.Alaska Works, a nonprofit organization formed by Alaska building trade unions, has geared up rural construction training programs that are now operating in the Bering Straits, Bristol Bay and Yukon-Kuskokwim regions. The effort is being supported by federal funds.The emphasis is on recruiting, screening and helping organize training for rural housing projects."The idea is for people in these communities to develop the skills to build projects in their own communities, and then become part of the statewide trained work force," said Mike Andrews, director of Alaska Works.Meanwhile, AGC is gearing up its outreach effort in schools, aided by materials developed by the national AGC organization."Build It," a kit of projects for fourth and fifth grades, was offered in 100 elementary schools around the state this past year, according to Cattanach.This is being followed by "On Site," a program for middle schools, which two rural school districts started using this spring. It will be in more middle schools next fall, Cattanach said.High schools in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and in 10 rural schools have also adopted a core curriculum of more advanced skills developed by the National Center for Construction Education, a program of the University of Florida at Gainesville.The core curriculum is intended to lead into more advanced hands-on vocational education in carpentry, electrical, mechanical and plumbing. There are limits to the ability of some Alaska high schools to offer this, but there’s a lot of interest in the core curriculum, Cattanach said.The unions’ Alaska Works group is cooperating with AGC and also has its own effort under way in schools to interest and recruit young people in construction, Andrews said.The group is working with local school districts in Fairbanks, Bethel and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on a "tech prep" program for young people with an interest in construction.Building trades unions in Fairbanks began tech-prep there in 1998, Andrews said. It was offered in Bethel schools the following year, and most recently in Mat-Su schools.The program helps channel young people into the University of Alaska’s two-year associate degree program in apprenticeship technology, Andrews said.Meanwhile, the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium will see the first fruits of its two years of work this winter when 35 Alaskans graduate from a two-year program conducted on three University of Alaska campuses.The consortium, made up of companies that operate process facilities in petroleum, mining, electric utilities and other industries, worked closely with the university to develop the program and helped fund it, mostly through curriculum development and scholarships.With process operators in high demand, this winter’s graduates are highly likely to be hired into good-paying jobs with companies that operate process facilities, according to Ann Spohnholz, APICC’s executive director. She said some are already working as summer interns for oil and gas companies on the North Slope.Having built this track record, APICC is now expanding its scope, Spohnholz said, to include training for electrical and instrumentation technicians, heavy equipment maintenance technicians, health, safety and environment workers and other occupations that will be in high demand in several Alaska industries, including construction.APICC is close to signing a formal agreement with the Associated General Contractors and Alaska Works to help promote construction careers training in the extensive outreach efforts APICC has under way."Training for the building trades isn’t our prime mission, but there is significant overlap between the industries," Spohnholz said. "The core jobs we are focusing on are the operators, technicians, machinists, health and safety professionals and the engineers. In order for the industry to operate there must be maintenance of new facilities," she said. Part of APICC’s mission is to do outreach to the kindergarten through high school education community, to promote technical training and put an emphasis on math and science, Spohnholz said.APICC’s Career Connections Committee in an informal network that meets by teleconference monthly, consisting of industry people and educators. "We’ve taken a leadership role, along with the Business Education Compact, in assisting industry to partner with local school districts to make curriculum relevant for kids, and to help them know about real jobs," Spohnholz said.Some of APICC’s members are promoting programs in schools, such as AMEREF, or Alaska Mineral and Energy Education Fund, which developed school kits stimulating interest in natural resource sciences.There’s also Science in a Technical World, a series of science projects for seventh and eighth grades that stimulates interest in science, math and science-related reading and writing; and Choices, for elementary schools."All the research shows that young people tend to form opinions about jobs and occupations at about the fifth and sixth grades," Spohnholz said. "This is a critical age."We’ve got a serious problem because the bias not only in the education community but among parents and society in general is toward academics and the college track. Along the way many young people are being turned away from an interest in fields where they could make a good living," she said.