Published August 2017
Two hundred years ago, virtually everything the Ahtna people needed for survival came from the land, the rivers that score it and the plants and animals that share the environment. While subsistence still sustains many Ahtna people, most of us must get a job to earn our keep.
The Ahtna’s Shareholder Development department was created to assist shareholder-owners in preparing for rewarding careers.
“Shareholder Development helped connect the shareholders highlighted in this article with the laborers training program, but it’s each individual’s drive and determination that has allowed him or her to excel. They each have their own unique story and we are proud to see what they have accomplished. They are a shining example of how hard work and putting your mind to something pays off,” said Michelle Anderson, Ahtna President.
Need help with your resume? Need to brush up on your job interview skills? Tracy Parent, Ahtna’s Shareholder Development Coordinator can help. “The primary goal of Ahtna’s Shareholder Development program is to maximize shareholder potential by providing development opportunities and engaging shareholders as they pursue career and life goals. We work closely with shareholders so that they are better prepared and qualified for opportunities.”
This spring, six young shareholder-owners became apprentice laborers after completing the three-week apprenticeship- training program offered by Alaska Laborers Local 341. We are pleased to bring you their personal stories.
There is an old phrase that says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” No one personifies that phrase like Ahtna shareholder-owner Herman Chilligan. About a year ago, he left his home, friends and extended family behind in Mentasta Lake to find work in Alaska’s largest city so he could more easily support his wife and two young children and begin a new life.
The first few months were tough, living out of his truck working side jobs here and there, but Herman was determined to land a better job. Everything began to change when Starr Knighten, formally with Ahtna Shareholder Development, spotted his name on a job application and assisted him with getting work at Ahtna Facilities Services. “Starr helped me out finding a good job,” said Herman. “I am definitely happy with shareholder services.”
From there, his situation only got better. He joined Laborers Union Local 341 and immersed himself in the occupational training courses offered by the union. Within a few months, Herman earned multiple certifications in asbestos abatement, hazardous waste, forklift operation and even first aid and CPR so he could respond to a medical emergency. That training led him to a good-paying job with Ahtna Construction and Primary Products Corporation (AC&PPC), where he now performs corrosion inspection and maintenance on the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Herman’s long-term career goal is to become a certified heavy-equipment operator, “I really like working with heavy equipment. I never thought I would be driving one of those things.”
While he takes pride in his success, Herman admits he still misses everyone back home in the Mentasta Lake community and its traditional way of life. Herman encourages anyone in circumstances like his who say they cannot do it to just look at what he accomplished in little over a year. The keys to success are to work hard, stay strong and never give up. Herman’s parents are Smitty Sanford of Mentasta and Irene Chilligan
Some careers are a family affair. Brandon’s cousin, Karl Martin, became a laborer’s apprentice for a change of pace. “I was tired of working job-to-job and wanted a career. The staff at Ahtna suggested I join them.” Karl says Ahtna staff was always reaching out to him about job fairs, educational and career opportunities – and eventually the laborers program.
Karl says he loves the hands-on work, building scaffolding, replacing guardrails, maintenance and learning to prevent workplace injuries. “I am always busy and did not want to sit in an office. Here I get paid to learn, and that is pretty awesome.”
Considering his future, Karl plans to stay a laborer for the remainder of his working career and highly recommends all young shareholder-owners contemplating which career path to take consider becoming a professional laborer. Karl’s mother is Kathryn Martin of Mentasta, his father is the late Karl Martin of Dot Lake.
Shareholder-owner Brandon Nicolai didn’t need any convincing to join the laborers-training program. He just followed in his father’s footsteps. “It runs in the family. My dad used to be in the laborers union. I knew I would have a good job.” At just 19 years old, Brandon is a newly-minted apprentice, completing the training program in late May. He heaps praise on Ahtna Shareholder Development for not only helping him get into the training program, but for its financial assistance with purchasing tools and the free career counseling.
Also from Mentasta Lake, Brandon welcomes seeing the far-flung areas of Alaska that come with working as a laborer and the experiences it creates, but admits leaving his family behind leaves him a little homesick. Brandon’s father is Lee Nicolai of Mentasta, his mother is Ramona Nicolai of Tetlin.
Like almost all young Alaskans, Stewart George looked to his family and social media to find his career path. Reading the Laborers 341 Facebook page and having two family members in the union convinced him to become a laborer. “Joining the union was a great opportunity. It’s a good way to support a family, and the benefits are good for raising a family,” said Stewart.
Stewart sees being a laborer as the beginning of a career in construction. He plans on completing a college degree in construction management and becoming a project manager. His parents are the late Kevin George of Copper Center and the late Brenda Goodlataw of Tazlina.
For Quinn Hagberg, working with her hands in the great outdoors is her dream job, even if she gets a little dirty doing it. Quinn completed her training as part of the Women in the Trades program hosted by the Laborers Apprentice Training Program.
Before beginning the training program, every laborer trainee must complete a grueling, three-part physical test. Quinn had to push a wheelbarrow filled with gravel, move 75 cinderblocks, set up and take apart scaffolding before digging a 10-foot-long trench and refilling it. “The physical test was tough, but it was more of a mental thing,” said Quinn, “I was glad to get through that.”
While the job of a laborer may sound generic, apprentices quickly learn there is a lot that goes into earning that job title. Trainees learn how to use the correct tools, avoid injuries and keep workplaces safe. “I like that I am learning a little bit about of everything. So much to learn and so much to grow.”
Her deep cultural roots in Alaska instilled in Quinn an appreciation for the outdoors. After hanging up her hard hat at the end of the workday, she remains outside by camping, rock climbing, skiing and just about anything else she can find to do outdoors.
Quinn not only works with her hands, she plays music with them, too. An accomplished musician with the guitar, autoharp, harmonica and ukulele, she can be seen performing live at nightspots around Anchorage. Last year, she placed second in the Crowd Pleaser event at the annual Fur Rondy Great Alaska Talent Competition. Quinn is the daughter of Tawny LeBlanc of Anchorage and her father is Glenn Hagberg of Anchorage.
As a child, Clarence Edwin saw first-hand what a professional laborer could accomplish. “My grandfather was in the laborers union, and I grew up watching him fix stuff around the house. In fact, he built his own house!”
Growing up in Copper Center, Clarence says he always enjoyed physical labor, and while the work of a laborer can be difficult, it brings with it a sense of accomplishment when the job is done. He has nothing but praise for the laborers union and its instructors, who are very thorough, teaching the skill sets necessary to do the job right and safely. Clarence sees himself becoming a journeyman and eventually a foreman. Clarence is the son of Jessica Rock of Copper Center and Stanley Edwin of Tanana.
Today, Clarence, Brandon, Stewart, Herman, Quinn and Karl are all on job sites earning a livable wage and providing for their families thanks to Laborers’ Local 341 and Ahtna Shareholder Development.
Shareholder-owners in need of job-training assistance can reach Ahtna Shareholder Development Services at 110 West 38th Avenue, Suite 100, Anchorage, AK 99503, and the number to call is (907) 868-8250. Career assistance and development services are available for all shareholder-owners, their spouses and descendants.