AIOIC Expands Takoda

Patient Services Specialist instructor Jessica Feist teaches the Medical Terminology class. (All photos courtesy of AIOIC.)

By Lee Egerstrom

The American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center (AIOIC) in Minneapolis has redesigned the logo and branding of its no cost, adult education programs and employment services under a Takoda, or “all are welcome,” brand in the Dakota language.
The rebranding has been in the works for the past year, AIOIC officials said. Various career pathways programs and services previously known by an “alphabet soup” mix of names are now integrated as parts of the AIOIC’s Takoda subdivision.

That includes the ongoing Takoda Institute that offers post-secondary training programs and Takoda GED which offers students Adult Basic Education and General Educational Development (GED) programs for high school equivalency degrees.

Under the same Takoda banner, various job placement and counseling programs are also included and should be more understandable for students, employers and the general public, said Kimberly Ben-Haim, director of the Takoda Institute. This subsector is known as Takoda Works.

A student in the Patient Services Specialist training reads an assignment out loud to her classmates.

AIOIC President and chief executive Joe Hobot (Ph.D) said the broader use of Takoda keeps the programs “deeply rooted as an American Indian organization.” Despite this focus, Takoda’s no-cost programs are available to all ethnicities seeking personal improvement through education and career placement.

The Takoda programs are housed at AIOIC headquarters, 1845 E. Franklin Ave. in the Little Earth neighborhood and on the east edge of Minneapolis’ American Indian Cultural Corridor.

“The use of Takoda was expanded beyond just the post-secondary school to help clients and potential clients understand that all of our support and education services are interconnected with one another,” said Brigit Boler, AIOIC marketing and fundraising specialist.

Takoda Prep, the alternative high school at AIOIC, is also part of the redesign.
“We just link out to their own website because the process of becoming a student there is much more restricted and complicated due to being technically part of the Minneapolis Public Schools,” Boler said.

The rebranding, or search for a clearer public identify, comes as workplace conditions and opportunities are changing and evolving and as AIOIC’s programs have been given greater support to reach more people.

Job opportunities and good paying jobs increasingly require high school equivalency or higher education and training degrees and certificates. The state of Minnesota and foundations have stepped up support for no-cost training to meet projected labor market needs. State researchers anticipate Minnesota will have a 400,000 labor gap by the year 2024.

Takoda Institute students learn presentation skills.

American Indian and other ethnic groups in Minnesota have lower high school graduation rates and post-secondary training than the general public, said marketing specialist Ivy Estenson. This results in the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey finding American Indian median income was $37,034, and $33,436 for Black Americans, while median income for White Americans was $68,687, she noted.

At the same time, the nine-year ongoing recovery from the Great Recession and state and national economic growth haven’t lifted all Minnesotans into higher paying jobs with health and other benefits.

Responding to these disparities, Takoda Institute met with employers, industry professionals and potential students during the past year to develop a new, nine-month training program called Digital Office Professional. It teaches industry identified skills that help place graduates in career positions where there are job opportunities for years to come.

Here’s the obvious payback: Takoda Institute has found these jobs range in pay from $21.71 to $34.76 per hour and offer opportunities for advancement.

Ben-Haim said former students of Takoda programs keep in touch with faculty and staff and often report doubling their incomes within a year of graduation.

Pursuing pathways to meet recognized future job growth and needs, Takoda Institute offers both short-term training courses and long-term courses that lead to graduates receiving accredited certificates.

Computer Support Specialist students assemble a computer, one of the many hands-on learning activities at Takoda Institute.

Long-Term Course offerings include the Digital Office Professional and Computer Support Specialist programs, both nine-month study programs, and a six-month Patient Services Specialist program. All three address pressing workplace hiring needs.

Short-Term Course offerings vary during the course of the year, Ben-Haim said, and may be as short as one week on up to four and six-week programs.

Among those offerings are Warehouse Logistics, Customer Service, Project Management and IT Services Management. The also strengthen students’ resumes for upward advancement with careers in growing employment areas. But this doesn’t stop with the classroom.

Takoda Works continues to stay connected with students after they finish course work. It organizes occasional job fairs, and it works to match student and graduate skills with employers in expanding job fields. It also works with Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry apprentice programs in healthcare fields.

Ben-Haim said in 2017 there were 218 students participating in long-term and short-term courses, including some that are offered sporadically during the year. Enrollment may well leap upwards in the year ahead, and the Takoda programs have capacity for it.

Foundations such as The Greater Twin Cities United Way, Otto Bremer Trust, Northwest Area Foundation and the Minneapolis Foundation support AIOIC and the Takoda programs. In addition, Hobot said AIOIC has various programs funded through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

“The most notable was our most recent – having been awarded not one but two competitive grants from MN DEED through its marquee workforce development award known as ‘Pathways to Prosperity’ – also referred to as ‘P2P’,” he said.

These two grants amounted to $625,000 for use over the next two years. Hobot said he sees these as “validation” by the state of “the tremendous efforts and amazing work being down each day by the AIOIC team.”

AIOIC and like organizations across America were stimulated by the Johnson Administration’s Great Society program in the 1960s. The names came from an Opportunities Industrialization Center formed in Philadelphia.

The South Minneapolis one was started in 1979, largely at the urging of Native American leader Clyde Bellecourt. Two other Minnesota OICs remain from that era. An early one known as the Twin Cities OIC was since rebranded as Summit Academy OIC, or more widely known as Summit Academy, on the northwest side of Minneapolis. Another is the Northwest Indian Community Development Center at Bemidji.

Hobot said Takoda GED operates a secondary site program at the NWICDC campus and the two groups are part of a collaboration known as Workforce Next. It involves culturally-specific, community based organizations specializing in education, equity development and employment services.

For a look at projected job growth and changes by occupations, see the website:

For information about Takoda and programs, see:

For information about Takoda Prep, the alternative high school, see: