Fall marks the end of Seward’s busy tourism season. But as summer ends, a new class of students is just starting at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center. Classes resumed at AVTEC’s Seward campus this Monday.
Cathy LeCompte is AVTEC’s director. She says the dorms and on-campus apartments are back open, with a slew of COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
Cathy LeCompte: Our enrollment numbers are very strong for this upcoming school year. We opened to full capacity.
Last year during COVID, we were running at about 50 percent capacity. And we opened up for full capacity this year, and we filled up and we have waitlists on most of our programs.
KDLL: Wow. Are there any programs in particular that you're seeing being more popular this year?
CL: You know, one of the programs that we offer here that's unique is our culinary arts program. And for the last couple years, it's been not as ascribed to. We've had, you know, not capacity in the class.
This year, capacity. I don't know what happened. Everybody wants to get back into culinary arts. So we got a full house.
KDLL: Do you have any kind of new or new-ish programs this year that you're excited about?
CL: Yes, we do. As a matter of fact, we have a new program that we just started called Building Maintenance and Construction. And it is a program that runs for 12 weeks.
And it is a little bit of everything you need to know about the construction trades. And it's really designed for folks that want to get into construction, like on a site, somebody that wants to be available to do handyman work or help in buildings that have maintenance issues, be a facilities maintenance person.
We developed that because there's a need for folks to repair buildings. We've been building buildings in this state for a long time — new schools, new hospitals, new long term care facilities — and now they're starting to age and they need some maintenance.
And so we're trying to meet that need. And a person could come and take one or two of the classes or they could take all of them. It just depends on where they're at.
And an owner of a construction company can say, “I need this crew member to take this, this and that course, and I need this crew member to take that, that and that course.” And so we're trying to be flexible in this training and give people the skills that they need to help out in building maintenance and construction.
KDLL: To that end, we're kind of in a strange situation right now workforce-wise and economy-wise, in large part because of the pandemic.
How do you see AVTEC kind of helping meet the needs of today's economy, particularly, you know, in this part of the state?
CL: Well, right now, my plan moving forward is to do as much as I can to develop partnerships regionally or locally to offer training in the building maintenance and construction to start with, and sharing facilities — I call it my hub and spoke model, or, “Have training, will travel.”
And right now in construction, we have a partnership with the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, they received a grant. And they wanted some of the construction and building construction and maintenance training in their region. They're providing the facilities, they're ordering the supplies, and we're providing instructional staff.
And so when COVID allows, we will send one of our construction trades instructors out to their communities and teach the local workforce. I think that's going to be a good model, because an individual may or may not have the ability to leave their communities, their families, to come to AVTEC and train. And so to take the training out to them, I think it's going to be a good solution, particularly for those folks that want to reskill into a new trade or want to upskill.
KDLL: And then the last thing I would ask is do you think this last year, year and a half has changed the way that people think about kind of continuing education and about the opportunities available to them in a way that maybe AVTEC could play into kind of going forward?
CL: Absolutely. I think that the shift from college for all, to college for those that want it and can benefit and it's in their plan for their future life, to what is it that you need and want to do if you you want to work with your hands, if you'd like fixing engines, if you like cooking, if you're into computers — then this is a great option for you.
And we have a really strong relationship with the university and particularly in our information technology and our business office technologies. Our students at AVTEC can articulate what they learned at AVTEC into associate degree programs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And so they can start here, go to work, and then take that learning and articulate it into credits into an Associate of Applied Science and Business Management, or in information technology.
So I think that what we're seeing, one of the things is the economic fallout of the pandemic is creating opportunities for us to look at each other and say, “How can we work together better because our budgets are being reduced or constrained?” And I think it's a good opportunity for us to look at educational pathways development from high school into AVTEC or the university, where students and Alaskan students can start in one place and just move through as their life plans unfold. And removing those barriers for them to continue to get education if that's what they want, or go to work.