The state of American Indian Employment in Minnesota

Over the last six months, the American Indian OIC has been working to better understand the prevalence of unemployment among Minnesota’s Native people. As a community-based nonprofit focused on workforce development, we frequently hear of economic disparities between American Indians and other populations. However, only recently were we able to gain firm data from the State’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED) validating the seriousness of the issue.

“21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives
aged 16 to 65 are out of work.”

According to MN DEED, 51% of American Indians of age to work are without a job. Specifically, this means that 21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives aged 16 to 65+ are out of work. Although the state has supported thousands of American Indians over the last two years with programs such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Heading Home, few people have been helped with direct employment placement programs that resulted in jobs, much less jobs with livable wages.   In fact, in these programs the number of people who gained jobs within a year after being in the program resulted in a job change of 5% – meaning only 342 additional people gained jobs over a two year period. More importantly, of those who were employed prior to being a part of the program, their salaries moved from $7,504 to $9,158 – a gain of $1,654 annually, signaling that these programs made little change in a family’s ability to secure economic stability.

Assuming that the programs mentioned above provided a variety of other supportive services families need such as transportation, child care, etc., it would be favorable if Native people had access to other programs that were specifically focused on job training and employment placement. However, when reviewing the data for the past two years, only 379 adults throughout the entire state – an average of 189 yearly – were helped with specialized job placement service programs funded by MN DEED.   Of those that were helped, more held jobs after being in the program, but their salaries were consistently lower than before they started.

For AIOIC, the next question was how can we change this situation? As an agency that works to build employment opportunities, we have some ideas, but we felt that the best source would come from the community itself.   Recently, AIOIC invited both employed and unemployed American Indians to participate in a listening session. At this meeting, we presented the data above and asked only two questions: 1) Based on this data, what suggestions do you have to improve employment and 2) if we were able to implement priority suggestions, how would you engage the community to take advantage of these opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the community was just as informed about the strengths and challenges they face as those of us offering workforce development programs. Felony convictions, lack of child care, lack of transportation, and lack of good housing were a few of the challenges mentioned. However, participants offered more insight into what could be done to address the jobless problem, much of which involved engagement. They suggested that we work to help define careers, explain why jobs are valuable, and offer more locations for GED and more opportunity for job training. Their suggestions for engagement were to train program staff on motivational interviewing, develop leadership skills among participants, hold monthly support groups, and offer paid on-the-job experiences with area employers. In addition, they would mandate sobriety, set and celebrate goals, and help people understand how they represent their community. We couldn’t have agreed more with their statements.

Overall, it seems evident that more actual job placement resources need to be available to Native people in Minnesota. Without investment, the possibility of bridging the economic disparity gap is nonsensical. In addition, our hope is to find opportunities to expand our programs to address much of what we and the community know to be true, to have a broader investment in people when they walk in the door. Many people are not ready to transition from joblessness or reservation life to job placement. They need further academic support, they need to engage in leadership and personal development, they need paid, on-the-job training experiences, and they need a broader sense of community to work towards and celebrate their successes.

In partnership with the Northwest Indian OIC, the American Indian OIC of Minneapolis is working to gain the attention of the State to improve career training and job placement services for Minnesota’s American Indians. The commissioner of MN DEED and staff of the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership have begun playing a more active role in concert with our organization. However, Minnesota’s Natives have been left out of state plans focused on jobs and training. At a recent State-Regional Talent and Workforce Development Forum, hosted by MN DEED in partnership with the Metropolitan Council and Greater MSP, state economic development leaders convened to identify shared priorities and strategies to grow the state’s economy through talent development and other initiatives. A handout at the meeting presented unemployment and wage data among minority populations as a potential workforce of the future; however, American Indians were not even listed. When questioned about its absence, the response was, “they are statistically insignificant.”

“….they are statistically insignificant.”

If you disagree with this assertion, and like us, you believe that you are significant, that people in your community should be considered in state plans for talent development through jobs and training, please contact the honorable Governor, Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or and let them know your first name, the city you live in, your Nation, and that you and your community are significant and need to be recognized in the planning of Minnesota’s workforce development.

For more information, contact Mitzi Hobot, 612.341.3358, x110

Native Youth Works

The American Indian OIC (AIOIC) is excited to announce the launch of a new career services program for young people of American Indian descent. Native Youth Works, a program funded by the City of Minneapolis, helps Natives ages 14-21 explore future career interests through online programs, employment planning, and potentially paid internships.image003

The goal for Native Youth Works is to open doors for its participants in the areas of employment and education. Services are educationally focused and tailored to meet each participant’s distinct needs. Native Youth Works clients can get help developing a résumé, finding and applying for jobs, earning a GED, and completing a job training program. One of the most unique aspects of Native Youth Works is that clients can participate in paid internships, giving them practical, hands-on experience that can give a considerable edge in the future job market. The program can also help participants obtain various forms of identification and connect to resources that will help them overcome other barriers to employment. Fun incentives can also be earned by active participants.

To enroll in Native Youth Works, participants will complete an informal application and educational assessment. Youth will then begin working with the AIOIC’s Native Youth Works Coordinator to plan a path that will make the program most beneficial for them. Participants must be between the ages of 14-21, able to prove American Indian descent, reside in Minneapolis, and not currently involved in any other employment programs. For questions or to enroll, contact Don Clark, Native Youth Works Coordinator, at or 612.341.3358, x115.

Decoding The Future: Opportunity In The Growing IT Industry

Americans are so “plugged in” that it seems impossible to get through an hour of the day without reaching for and relying on some form of technology.  As our reliance on technology grows, so grows the employment sector for Information Technologies (IT)– a fact that recently inspired Congressman Keith Ellison to visit American Indian OIC.

AIOIC president Joe Hobot and key members of the AIOIC leadership team welcomed the opportunity to discuss workforce development strategies with the Congressman, who highlighted the fact there are many jobs available to individuals who possess knowledge and competency in specialized programming and coding languages currently in-demand in the IT sector. Congressman Ellison shared his first hand knowledge of employers who are struggling to find qualified IT professionals.

Congressman Ellison’s observations affirmed that AIOIC is on track to be a part of the solution, with their recent decision to add workshops on SQL, Java and Windows PowerShell, to the list of Takoda Institute IT courses. AIOIC President Joe Hobot explained, “Our hope is that these programs will allow people who possess previous computer knowledge to broaden their skill set in order to be highly competitive applying for jobs within the IT industry.”

Congressman Ellison also suggested that AIOIC partner with the #YesWeCode movement. #YesWeCode is an initiative to help train 100,000 low-opportunity youth to become highly-skilled programmers.  Another  new AIOIC initiative that aligns perfectly with #YesWeCode, includes offering an  IT track for students enrolled at Takoda Prep,  AIOIC’s alternative high school,.  The big idea behind the high school IT program is to provide teenaged students with an edge for becoming successful and self sufficient in the future, by exposing them to advanced training in computer programming and coding while still in high school. Also, the rigorous nature of IT coursework planned for Takoda Prep will provide graduates with the foundation necessary to pursue higher education opportunities available at the Takoda Institute. AIOIC’s goal is to provide Takoda Prep students an opportunity to follow an IT pathway starting in high school and continuing all the way through college, ultimately attaining a promising career position with the help of AIOIC Career Services counselors.

Reflecting on Congressman Ellison’s visit Prakash Adiani, Education Director at the Takoda Institute observed, “Congressman Ellison’s visit affirmed that our IT focused education and workforce development programs are right on trend with opportunity and demand in the IT sector.”

Economic Disparities for People of Color

The American Indian OIC has long recognized the importance of education as a pre-requisite for embarking upon a career within the modern economy. Without training and a highly developed skill set, employment becomes nothing more than a mere job acquisition – which only serves as temporary alleviation of long-term economic distress. This is not a solution the people of our community are interested in nor can they advance in this environment. Instead, AIOIC supports a robust training and educational model that will empower candidates to be hired in positions in professional careers and that will allow themselves and their families to thrive within the 21st Century. Unfortunately, the current investment in “career training” for populations of poverty – which tend to be highly comprised of people of color – only allow quick, low-skilled options which lead to low skill, low wage jobs. According to the most recent Affirmative Action Data Packet (a joint research effort between MN DEED and the Minnesota Office of Human Rights that examines employment data along racial lines every five years) the greater Twin Cities region continues to exhibit a gulf between non-minority people and minority people in terms of securing long-term and innovative career pathways. The most recent report, covering the years between 2006 through 2010, indicates that the occupations with the largest minority populations remain low-level, low-wage types of employment. Pathways where the percentages between white people and minorities are relatively equal or comprised of a larger minority presence include: cooks; dishwashers; maids and housekeeping cleaners; baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges; telephone operators; and food processing workers. Although this individualized are employed and therefore considered contributing to the overall economy, the very nature of these appointments (low-level, low-wage positions) actually serves to prevent minority populations from advancing and from thriving. Because people in these positions often have to work longer hours in an attempt to compensate for the low rates of pay, minority populations continue to struggle to advance economically when compared to those working higher-level, higher-wage jobs (which are according to this data principally populated by white people). This combination of a lack of real, meaningful employment opportunities – coupled with a need to commit longer hours towards earning a sustainable wage – has swelled the ranks of the employed yet impoverished. In short, these people are the “working poor” of our state, and they are disproportionately represented by minority populations. We have serious concerns about the current economic disparities that still plague Minnesota’s minority populations – particularly among American Indians. AIOIC intends to host a series of World Café events that bring in American Indian service providers – as well as the indigenous community itself – to evaluate the efficacy of current education, training, and employment programs used by American Indians, and to further examine the causality of the pervasive joblessness and unemployment that persists among our people so that we may effectively direct our efforts going forward. Our first event will be held on August 14th with details on event to come soon.