Applicants for herring fishery processor jobs with North Pacific Seafoods watch an instructional video in 2018 on what the job entails at the Anchorage job center for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Photo by Margaret Bauman for The Cordova Times

Retaining good employees is more challenging than ever, and while good pay is important, a toxic culture, job insecurity, failure to distinguish between high and low performers when it comes to recognition and high levels of innovation are contributing to attrition, a new labor report concludes. 

“Recruiting people takes more time and energy and employees have the leverage to ask for more, knowing that if their current employer doesn’t offer what they want, a new one probably will,” writes Dan Robinson, chief of research and analysis for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD), in the October edition of Alaska Economic Trends. 

Data analyzed by the state labor department found that the highest rate of turnout in Alaska’s workforce is an 84% turnover of fast food cooks, who earn an average wage of $15.75 an hour — followed by drywall and ceiling tile installers with an 82% turnover and an average wage of $31.04 an hour, and landscaping and groundskeeping workers with a 71% turnover and average pay of $21.04 hourly. 

The lowest rate of turnover was for pharmacists, civil engineers, architectural and civil drafters and architects, except for landscape and naval. 

Pharmacists and civil engineers, with an average turnover rate of 12%, earn an average of $70.39 and $52.39 an hour respectively. Architectural and civil drafters, with an average turnover rate of 9%, earn an average of $35.48 an hour and other architects, except landscape and naval, with an 8% turnover rate, bring home an average of $48.93 an hour. 

Job openings, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, reached highest levels nationally and in Alaska in the years after COVID-19 hit. In the early 2000s, job openings nationally ranged from 3 million to 5 million, while in Alaska they hovered between 10,000 and 15,000. Job openings have since more than doubled nationally, reaching 11.4 million in mid-2022 before declining slightly. In Alaska job openings hit 40,000 in the summer of 2022 and still remain far above historical levels, Robinson noted. 


Four occupations highlighted for high turnover, even with high wages, require physically difficult work, including drywall and ceiling installers, highway maintenance workers, radio, cellular and tower equipment installers and repairers, and carpenters. When work outside is involved, it can mean working in harsh weather doing physically demanding work, especially in Alaska. 

Annual turnover for bartenders was less than half that of fast food cooks, despite the fact that bartenders have low average hourly wages. Tips are one likely reason, Robinson said, adding that total wages earned by bartenders would be much higher if tips could be captured accurately. 

Job openings in Alaska, as well as nationally, had begun rising well before the pandemic, due to the large baby boom generation aging out of their prime working years in the early 2010s, with fewer people aged into the working years to replace them. 

Bartending, Robinson notes, is particularly appealing to some people, judging from the data. Many bartenders look for special mixology training and view their work as a craft. 

People who work with explosives also have one of the lowest turnover rates. This suggests that some people are particularly interested in such work and those who choose to do it, knowing full well what’s involved, are more likely to stick with it even if the wages aren’t high, Robinson said. 
Another occupation of special interest is child care, a job with an acute shortage of workers and facilities in Alaska and nationwide. Nine out of the 12 occupations with higher turnover rates than child care workers pay more, but still have higher turnover rates than those engaged in child care, he said. 

Researchers also found that the top five factors employees considered in looking for a new job were pay and benefits, flexibility on when and where they worked, challenging and impactful work, opportunities for career growth and opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Younger workers put particularly high value on opportunities to learn and build skills, while those over 50 put more value on challenging and impactful work, Robinson added.