Alaskans across the state will continue developing technical skills, like welding and dental therapy, with the signing of House Bill 141. On Tuesday in Bethel, local high school students surrounded Governor Bill Walker as he penned the legislation into law at the YK Delta’s workforce development center, Yuut Elitnaurviat.
Governor Walker hands out about a dozen of the blue pens used to sign the bill to students from the Kuskokwim Learning Academy. The high school gives him a present in return.
Walker: “Thank you.”
A purple and gold KLA T-shirt and water bottle.
Many of these students are already benefiting from this legislation and entering technical programs that meet the job needs of local organizations.
The bill reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program for another three years, putting nearly $12 million towards technical job training. Over $1 million of that will go to Yuut Elitnaurviat in Bethel.
Dishion: “We do dental health aide training, nursing programs, commercial drivers license training.”
Dennis Dishion is Yuut’s Executive Director.
Dishion: “Welding training, construction, carpentry, electrical, plumbing.”
Yuut is receiving about 10 percent less funding than in past years. To cover the difference, the center is cutting costs. It has put fuel services out for bid and has been merging barge orders.
KYUK: "Are there going to be fewer classes available or any staff positions affected?"
Dishion: "Nope, we’re trying to have no effect in the end-delivery service."
In fact, the center has twice as many students, about 350, signed up for technical training than ever before. Much of that is made possible by partner agencies like the Lower Kuskokwim School District and the Association of Village Council Presidents, who recruit workers and sponsor training to fill their job needs, like mechanics.
What Yuut Elitnaurviat provides to the YK Delta, the Norton Sound region receives from the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center.
Walrath: “Also known as NACTEC, in Nome.”
Doug Walrath is the Director. One of the most immediate impacts he’s seen from the program is rising high school graduation rates. Less than a decade ago, that rate was about 30 percent.
Walrath: “As more and more students have gotten exposed to it, our graduation rates climbed in the 40, 50, 60, 70, as high as 84 percent.”
The University of Alaska system receives most of the bill’s funding. Mary Pete directs Bethel’s Kuskokwim University Campus. Part of the money will train CNAs, certified nurse assistants, for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
Pete: “We can’t seem to produce enough CNAs for them. They get hired, and some leave the region.”
To work at other health centers or move on to nurse training programs.
Representative Zach Fansler of Bethel sponsored the bill. It aligns with the Innovation Caucus that he co-chairs and helped found this session.
To end the signing, Fansler, along with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and multiple Commissioners – after much prodding from teachers – joined the high school students in a Yup’ik moose hunting dance.
It took four rounds, but they finally shot the moose, just as the season is beginning.
[Fade out music]