Climate change, workforce development are big topics at first day of Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage

Day 1 of Artic Encounter Symposium kicks of in Anchorage
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 8:08 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The United States is an Arctic nation because of Alaska, and on Thursday the Arctic Encounter Symposium kicked off at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. At the event, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy welcomed ambassadors from other Arctic nations

“Our shared interests include transportation, resource development including minerals, oil and gas, fisheries, a changing climate, and national defense, " Dunleavy said.

The goal of the symposium is for the U.S. and other Arctic nations to confront concerns and shared interests. One of the themes from Thursday that struck home here in Alaska was workforce development.

In a session with national, state, and industry leaders, University of Alaska President Pat Pitney said the workforce population in Alaska has dropped by about 30,000 people over the last several years, and with the infrastructure bill the state is going to need about 10,000 more workers in the upcoming years. Pitney said one of the main issues is that youth in Alaska are not seeking post secondary education in college or the trade programs.

“Across our state we have the lowest college going rate, but we have the lowest post secondary involvement, and that means in the trades and in the military as well,” Pitney said.

Marilyn Romano, regional vice president for Alaska Airlines, added that the current workforce is aging out, and younger people are not seeking careers in those fields. Alaska Airlines is currently dealing with shortages of pilots and mechanics. At the session, the group said the goal is to create avenues, especially for Indigenous communities, to pursue higher degrees, and get kids interested in post secondary education at an early age.

“I know the senator (Murkowski) has been a huge champion of the ANSEP Program. I think we have got huge potential in STEM and inspiring Alaskan youth,” said Steve Wackowski, state director for the Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. “That is an incredible model where they take students at the middle school level and follow them through and then try to place them in STEM related jobs.”

Climate change was also a big topic on the first day of the event. Heather McFarland, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Communications Lead at the International Arctic Research Center, said her group is studying how the Arctic climate is changing.

They are using and sharing that research to make a difference for the people in Alaska and across the Arctic. She is also attending the symposium to collaborate with other people and groups who are working in the Arctic, and possibly partner with them in the future. McFarland said the Arctic is seeing warmer temperatures, which impacts the surrounding environment.

“The Arctic is changing really fast,” McFarland said. “We’re seeing warmer temperatures which has a huge impact all across the environment and so that impacts people, it impacts industry, it impacts governments. And so we need to work together to figure out what to do about it.”

The symposium is scheduled to continue Friday, starting at 9 a.m. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski are scheduled to speak on energy and Arctic policy.

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