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Cali Owings, Published September 01 2013

ND tribal colleges receive workforce training grants

BISMARCK – Four of the state’s tribal colleges recently received about $3.5 million from the North Dakota Department of Commerce to develop and enhance programs that meet the state’s employment needs.

State legislators set aside $5 million during this year’s session to be distributed to tribal colleges. The goal was to train students in high-need areas such as oilfield operations, commercial driving and construction.

“We’re really training for North Dakota occupations,” said Beth Zander, with the Workforce Development Division of the Department of Commerce.

The colleges apply for the funding through the Workforce Development Division. The state agency and the colleges will track outcomes such as job placement and retention to determine which programs are successful in helping the state “address its workforce issues,” Zander said.

Though the money is a huge boost to the tribal colleges, they’re under the gun.

“We have less than 18 months (when the Legislature reconvenes) to show what we can do relative to job training and putting people to work,” said Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten.

Lindquist was instrumental in getting the funding approved by the Legislature.

Several years ago when the state’s current oil boom was just starting, she mentioned the idea to a legislator after a meeting of the Tribal and State Relations Committee. She suggested the state give the tribal colleges a million dollars each.

“The state is realizing some significant riches. Why not help some of the most disadvantaged people?” she asked.

Lindquist said the “landmark legislation” speaks to a new relationship between the state and its native and indigenous residents.

Lindquist said Cankdeska Cikana Community College’s $500,511 grant will be used to add faculty members in construction trades and expand its commercial driver’s license and heavy equipment education programs.

United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck will boost its medical coding program with a $999,985 grant.

Turtle Mountain Community College will add to its electrical program and commercial driver’s license training before launching an oilfield operations curriculum with its $1 million grant.

Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College, said tribal colleges are in a good position to meet the needs of the state compared to other higher education institutions.

“We are flexible. We can design programs rather quickly,” he said.

A big part of the colleges’ implementation of these grants is not only training, but job placement. Turtle Mountain and Sitting Bull College, for example, are hiring career coaches to help link students with employers.

That will include teaching students what to expect when they enter the workforce so they can be more productive or get hired over someone with no experience.

Fort Yates, where Sitting Bull College is located, is removed from the oil and natural gas activity, said Koreen Ressler, vice president of academics at the college. She said people don’t know what to expect when they try to find a job there.

“We’re just trying to give them the additional resources and prepare them when they go up there,” Ressler said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599