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Associated builders and contractors push agenda: from gathering recruits to opposing Project Labor Agreements for the gas line, ABC speaks out.

In a trend that has Alaska builders pulling their hair, the construction .trades reportedly will require 1,000 new recruits per year for the next 10 years in Alaska to make up for the recent ebb of skilled trades workers-a phenomenon due to natural attribution and other cyclical factors.

For Rebecca Logan, a former restaurateur turned CEO and president of the local chapter of the national construction-related trade association, Associated Builders and Contractors, it's a trend that can be mitigated with recruiting and training.

"A very big focus of ours is the training ... and recruiting of new people for the industry," Logan says. "Apprenticeship is a formal method of training that's been around forever. The unions have done it forever."

BRINGING RECRUITS IN

As part of the program, the participant becomes part of a pool of available apprentice labor after an orientation and interview process. Employers approach the organization for labor, while the apprentice racks up valuable work experience. It's a win-win situation for both those interested in a career in the trades and the employer anxiously searching for a skilled, dedicated work force.

"We bring people who are brand new into the industry," she says. Typically the program might span four years and 8,000 labor hours in a variety of trade crafts. ABC also affiliates itself with the National Center for Construction Education and Research, located at the University of Florida's School of Architecture.

According to an ABC issues paper, "ABC craft training programs, while less formal than registered apprenticeship programs, are no less rigorous and demanding of high standards of performance. ABC craft training programs are flexible and meet local needs of the construction industry, and have been recognized by construction owners in the private sector as a more efficient and effective method of training."

In addition, the organization supports School to Career programs, "which offer students a course of study that brings together academics, on-the-job learning and paid work experience-all before high school graduation," the issues paper states. "These programs are linked to post high school education options, and additionally offer preparation for the professional world."

Such concepts may be particularly important for Alaska, Logan suggests. With a massive construction project on its horizon-the natural gas pipeline-Alaska stands to face an extreme shortage of available labor, a condition that ABC hopes to overcome. "We're going to be way short," she says. "We need to add that (shortage) on top" (of the standard shortage figures indicated earlier in this article). Particularly for "truck drivers and operating engineers-we're not going to be able to fill that need."

The trades face a curious challenge, given the constant pressure on high school students to follow the college track, Logan says. There is some resulting irony, asa large percentage of students nonetheless do not opt for college-leaving a great number of them for whom a career in the trades may be appealing-and earlier training beneficial. "We have to do a much better job of getting into the high schools here," she says.

PROMOTING MERIT SHOP CONCEPT

In addition to its promotion of training and recruitment for the skilled trades professions, ABC also promotes the concept of merit shop, a method of employment that is controversial to union supporters, but provides balance for those not interested in union membership, Logan says. "We promote open competition," she says. "You'll see that in the mission statement throughout the organization. We are trying to make sure that any construction work ... is made available through the open and competitive bidding process."

In a splash that created some level of industry stir, the organization recently tan an ad campaign suggesting that a majority percentage of Alaska construction workers-seven out of 10don't belong to a union, thereby posing that a Project Labor Agreement for the natural gas pipeline would discriminate against such workers. With the governor promoting a hire-Alaska priority, the statistics create a disconnect when considering a large project like the natural gas pipeline together with a possible PLA, she says. Given the statistics and the likelihood of a PLA, Logan poses: "so we're going to ask 78 percent of this work force to join a union to work on the pipeline."

JUST SAY NO

The campaign was an aggressive move that created considerable feedback, pro and con, throughout the state. "We ran that ad as more of an educational piece. It was really directed at the governor and the producers," she says. "We promote free enterprise and open competition. Our ultimate goal is to say there is no PLA for this project," she says, acknowledging that many in the state believe such a stance may not be realistic. "That's Plan A," she suggests. "Plan B is that there would be portability of benefits ... that they get to take those benefits with them. (And that), as Alaskans, they would get a priority in the union halls...."

Logan says ABC is not anti-union, but simply promotes open competition, instead. On a personal level, she says she respects those who have chosen the union track, but believes there should be opportunity for the other portion of Alaska trades workers who opt not to participate in a union.

"I think it's a philosophy issue," she says. "The people who have chosen not to go union have done that for a very strong reason and that's because they don't believe in that system."

Logan's comments essentially reflect the stance of the national organization itself, which gathered steam in the 1950s when, according to its Web site: "Seven contractors gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, to create an association based on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders." Currently the organization is recognized among Fortune magazine's Top 50 "most influential" national organizations, ABC touts. It represents some 23,000 merit shop contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and related trades workers nationwide, with 80 chapters.

So what led Logan from the food industry to a high-energy career representing the trades? She sold her last restaurant last March, she says. "I had a real interest in doing something political. I got what I asked for. It certainly has been political."
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Author:Colby, Nicole A. Bonham
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:1024
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