There’s no way to sugarcoat the stark employment realities facing many among us — spouses and partners, kids, friends and neighbors — who have endured the whiplash effect of jobs here one day and gone the next. Those lucky enough to still be working know how precarious their good fortune is. Everybody is anxious. That’s why I turned to Dr. Joe Hobot. As president and CEO of the American Indian OIC and a former teacher, Hobot knows job and life struggles, but also victories, as he helps the urban American Indian population escape generational poverty through a robust workforce training program. His message for all of us: Tough passages are an opportunity to rethink, recharge and re-engage.
Q: Your message is unusually upbeat for the time we’re in. How are you staying optimistic?
A: I do believe this is a great time to take stock and feel optimism. I like to quote Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor, who said, “Never let any crisis go wasted.” We’ve been taught by our elders that when facing challenges we should focus on adequate self-care but also take a proactive stance.
Q: What might that stance look like?
A: I’m a former high school teacher. It comes down to effective time management. It’s getting in the habit of getting up early and being ready for the day, managing that day, taking that walk, going to bed at a reasonable hour. It’s subjective from one household to the next, but this strategy provides necessary structure for your children and yourself. As we slowly transition back to reopening, it will be easier for those who have maintained a routine.
Q: But many workers won’t have anything to transition back to. That’s where organizations such as yours are so helpful. Tell us more about what you offer.
A: We are well-positioned to address re-employment. We were a recipient of stimulus funds during the last recession that helped put 1,500 people back to work through our vocational training, professional development and employment services programs. So we’ve got some insight into this trying time.
Q: Sounds like one insight is to be open to reinvention?
A: It’s true. For a long time, we focused on economically resilient industries, particularly IT and health care. What we came to learn was that we had a whole lot more folks interested in the manufacturing sector, such as shipping, storing and managing goods and services remotely. So we started creating training programs in that space. This is a burgeoning part of our economy, with wages up to $20 an hour. This is transformative for our community.
Q: It is the route out of what you call “the shackles of poverty.” And a long, long time coming.
A: The urban American Indian population is often misunderstood. It’s a very large and diverse population, with services provided to more than 36 tribal identifications or affiliations. Our community had seen an artificial inflation of employment data before this sharp retraction. A really high participation rate on a surface level is a good thing, but a lot of that was due to people taking one, two or three jobs just to make ends meet. The old credo — last in/first out — led to disproportionate layoffs for our community during the most recent sharp economic contraction. Our folks didn’t have the longitudinal work experience and so they were first to be let go. Understandably, they’re not interested in returning to those positions. Whatever the new normal becomes, we strive for long-term job security and meaningful wages. Let’s make sure this crisis recalibrates and recasts Minnesota in a way that’s beneficial to everybody.
Q: You do a lot of work with youths. What do they want most with jobs?
A: We work with teens as young as 15. A lot of our young people are shying away from postsecondary education. They have a burgeoning appetite for shorter-term training and vocational prospects. Through a Minneapolis Public Schools contract, we operate an alternative high school; additionally, we offer an Adult Basic Education/GED program. Another program, called SOAR, works with youths ages 18 to 24 who have had run-ins with the law but who want to turn their lives around.
Q: Aside from maintaining a routine, what else might you advise the worried to do?
A: We offer many ideas on our website, such as updating your LinkedIn profile. Show your industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve seen a lot of folks listing that they’re sewing masks or creating a dog walking business. That shows transferable skills that are marketable and creative. Explore educational opportunities and professional development, such as university MOOCs (massive open online courses) or learning home repairs on YouTube. As a former teacher, I encourage people to take notes, ask questions, become a student.
Also, get clear on what you want. Take time to reflect on your strengths, weaknesses and the work you enjoy most. Research your target companies; find out what they actually want. Be kind to yourself, too. This is a stressful time, so take time to meditate, exercise and do self-care. It’s important that you expect the job search to take longer than you think. Then you can be pleasantly surprised if you’re one of the lucky few whose post-COVID job search is brief.
Q: Can anyone use your services?
A: Absolutely. Our programs carry the title Takoda, which means “All are welcome.” Visit us at takoda.org.