Want a job or new skills? These resources offer both

The other day I had a most interesting interview via Zoom with several sterling denizens of Alaska civil service, discussing several employment programs that have tons of money, no waiting lists and just might make a huge difference in your life.

In attendance were Duane Mayes, division director for the Alaska Department of Labor; Lisa Morley, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Aging; and Jim Swanson, southeast regional manager with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. They have been hatching a plan for senior employment, gathering feedback and producing a position paper. Duane Mayes explained the background:

“[Recalling] all the conversations I had with seniors who wanted to continue to work, either because they have to, or they want to because of that social engagement, that stimulation, because as you age, you start to lose all those around you. So, let’s stay engaged. Many seniors at community forums that I know over the years have often said, ‘I just want to continue to work. I enjoy it.’

“So, at the Department of Labor we put this position paper together, and we made a decision that we wanted to be a bit more formal. You know, let’s put this on the radar, let’s not have this be a very informal effort. Let’s formalize it. Let’s bring all the relevant players together so we can talk about how we can improve, increase our outcomes and our numbers for seniors throughout the state, so we wrote the position paper ... We put together some strategic recommendations that we came up with, as to how we could do that.

“We brought it forward to the commissioner for the Department of Labor, and we brought in all the other relevant entities -- Commission on Aging, the Division of Senior and Disabilities Services, and we got the commissioner to endorse it. The Commissioner at the highest level of the Department of Labor, said, ‘Yes, go forth and do good, let’s make it happen.’”

The position paper, written in 2019, outlines the full plan. It begins by pointing out what is absolutely unique in Alaska:

“The number of senior citizens has increased by more than 5 percent each year since 2010, faster than any other state. As of 2018, Alaska had an estimated 87,304 seniors, up from 54,938 eight years ago. The Department of Labor projects the state will have more than 138,000 seniors by 2035.

“Seniors are living longer and want to work well beyond their retirement years because of the desire to stay engaged, or they have the need to do so because they do not have enough retirement income. As our department moves forward, we will formally address this need through collaboration with the Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training Program (MASST), the Alaska Job Centers, and the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.”

The balance of the document spells out how older Alaskans will be better informed about, and better served by these programs. Here’s a quick rundown on each of these programs. The panelists assured me that they are adequately funded and do not have waiting lists.

Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training Program (MASST) – This program provides training for low-income, unemployed seniors. Participants also have access to employment assistance. Participants gain work experience in a variety of community service activities at non-profit and public facilities. Participants work an average of 20 hours a week and are paid the highest of federal, state or local minimum wage. This training serves as a bridge to unsubsidized employment opportunities for participants. Participants must be at least 55, unemployed and have a family income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level. Visit https://labor.alaska.gov/masst/ or call (907) 465-4872

Alaska Job Centers – This is a job training and job finding website. There are lots of resources here so you may have to poke around a bit on the website to find what you are looking for. Call a representative if you are flummoxed by the site. Visit http://www.jobs.alaska.gov or contact your local job center at 877-724-2539 to speak to a job center representative.

Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation – “Each year, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) helps hundreds of Alaskans with disabilities prepare for, get and keep good jobs. If you want to work or keep working and have a physical, intellectual or mental condition that makes this hard, you may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. Check out DVR on Facebook for all things disability related.” -- Duane Mayes, Director

Visit https://www.labor.alaska.gov/dvr/home.htm or call V/tdD 465-2814; toll-free V/tdD 800-478-2815.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.