Rural vs. Railbelt: Opportunity, Access and Expectations

The rural/Railbelt divide is a permanent feature of Alaskan life, culture, policy considerations and certainly workforce development. Opportunity, access, incentive and readiness are dominant factors for all potential vocational trainees, no matter geographical location. But for Alaska Natives living in remote communities, location is often a determinant factor in terms of both access and incentive for training. 

Clean energy career pathways should be open and readily accessible to all Alaskans, but rural Alaskans committed to living in remote communities that have survived for thousands of years face a particularly daunting challenge in the modern era: A majority of careers are nonexistent or not feasible within their communities. Training opportunities for jobs that do exist are complicated by distance and logistics, and are almost always designed to support the operations and maintenance of crucial infrastructure—not individual careers or personal wellbeing. Job-oriented training in rural Alaska is often seasonal, intermittent and not, by comparison, remuneratively rewarding. With a few exceptions, training opportunities in rural Alaska are sporadic, grant-funded and organized with little local input around specific projects designed by outside agencies. Further complicating the picture is that the volume of rural Alaskans that need to be trained is small, but training needs remain consistently acute and persistent. 

Clean energy related training in Alaska’s vocational sector is geared toward two often distinct audiences:

  • Alaskan high school graduates from predominantly urban centers and hubs seeking degrees/certificates that lead to traditional career pathways
  • Rural Alaskans who may or may not acquire certificates/degrees as a result of training, including incumbent workers seeking to increase current skills and newer workers gaining access to training for the first time. 

There is common ground between the needs of rural and Railbelt workers in Alaska’s clean energy sector. No matter whether rural or Railbelt, maximizing access to training opportunities in clean energy requires coordination and cooperation amongst vocational institutions, industry, trade unions, utility cooperatives, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit stakeholders. The most crucial Alaskan institution, in terms of clean energy training, is the Alaska Vocational Technical Center (AVTEC). AVTEC is the only vocational training center operated by the state that draws from a statewide pool. Not surprisingly, AVTEC is at the nexus of the rural/Railbelt divide. There is no better frame of reference from which to observe the spectrum of challenges faced by Alaskan stakeholders as they cooperate to produce a skilled clean energy workforce throughout the state.