Partnerships and sustainability are key to developing tribal workforces

Tribal Workforce Crew Manager Joe Ochoa (right) trains a tribal crew member for the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, which partners the non-profit organization with three California tribal nations to restore ecosystems deemed critical to those nations. (Photo: Lomakatsi Restoration Project)


Op-ed Series: Building the human capacity to rebuild tribal nations


In its multi-year project examining tribal workforce development approaches across the country, NCAIs Partnership for Tribal Governance (PTG) worked to identify and document key foundational strategies that empower tribal innovation and, in turn, workforce development success.

Distilling lessons learned from that endeavor, PTG identified 15 strategic considerations that tribal leaders, workforce development staff, and other decision-makers must tackle as they craft workforce development approaches capable of achieving their definition of what success looks like for tribal citizens and the nation as a whole. These mission critical aspects of workforce development have a direct bearing on the ability of tribal workforce development approaches to make a transformative, sustainable difference. The following shares the final two considerations explored in the toolkit: partnerships and sustainability.


Tribal nations cannot go it alone if they are to achieve their workforce development priorities. They need to forge partnerships of varying scale and composition with key players within the nation and around it. Below are the common types of partnerships they are building and the common reasons why:

  • Tribal enterprises: to coordinate education, training, and ongoing professional development of tribal citizens to take jobs in those businesses and advance up the ranks.
  • Other tribal nations: to pool resources to provide ample education and training opportunities to their citizens; share program, labor force, and labor market data; share qualified labor for available jobs; learn each others programmatic best practices; and develop MOUs to consolidate service provision.
  • Other governments: such as federal, state, and county agencies to access their data; share tribal needs and data; connect citizens with support mechanisms and employers; provide them access to education and training services they otherwise cannot get; and bring those services to reservations.
  • Colleges and universities: to craft post-secondary education and training regimens and industry-recognized credentials customized to citizens distinct needs and tribal nations priorities; provide online learning; and assist with tribal needs assessments and data design, collection, and analysis.
  • Local and regional employers: to market tribal citizens with desired skill sets and align workforce education/training curricula to cultivate the skills they require.
  • Native Community Development Financial Institutions: to coordinate workforce education and training efforts, provide targeted training and ongoing support for tribal citizen-entrepreneurs, and strengthen financial management skills of employed tribal citizens and those seeking work.
  • K-12 schools: to share data/assessments about tribal students and provide a quality, culturally relevant curriculum and supportive environment to ensure continued learning.
  • Families: of the clients and students that tribal programs serve to support and ensure their success.
  • Non-profits: such as organizations to expand internship and fellowship opportunities, and labor unions to provide targeted training for in-demand fields and job placement upon graduation.
  • Coalition partnerships: featuring multiple partners to create comprehensive support systems for citizens and holistic solutions tailored to the nations distinct workforce needs and goals.

These partnerships provide tribal nations with greater policy and decision-making control; expand education, training, and job opportunities; better leverage limited financial resources; enhance tribal nations institutional and human capacity to engage in workforce development; and strengthen their ability to advance their long-term workforce development priorities.


Its one thing to develop an effective workforce development approach that addresses the needs of a tribal nations citizens and advances its strategic priorities today. It is quite another to sustain that approach over the long haul. As tribal nations build successful track records of workforce development, more and more now are tackling the challenge of how to systematically grow that success in order to benefit the nation not just today, but well into the future.

As they engage this critical task, some common ingredients for sustainability are emerging that stand to shorten the learning curve for other nations that will follow in their footsteps:

  • Accountability: Workforce development success and the ability to sustain it hinges on the accountability mechanisms (regular program assessments, employee performance agreements, outcomes-based budgeting, etc.) that a nation puts in place to ensure everyone (leaders, employees, clients, citizens) that contributes to or relies on its workforce development approach upholds their end of the bargain. This matters not just for meeting the requirements of new grants, but more importantly for achieving the nations long-term workforce development goals.
  • Adaptability: To be effective, a nations workforce development programs must adapt in real time to meet the distinct needs and goals of each client it serves. To be sustainable, a nations overall workforce development approach must be institutionally adaptable over time to: (1) stay synced with the nations evolving strategic vision and priorities; (2) refine programs based on new information and data; (3) expand what is working; (4) neutralize emerging obstacles; (5) capitalize on staffs growing knowledge and experience; (6) account for a growing population; and (7) forecast and adjust to changing labor market conditions and needs to ensure that the workforce itself is adaptable.
  • Communication: Building effective mechanisms for regular communication between political leaders, program leaders and staff, and community members fosters a common, well-informed understanding of and support for the nations workforce development approach. Such communication fosters a better understanding among all stakeholders of that approach, why it works the way it does, how its changing to better serve the people, and how it advances the nations overarching goals.
  • Institutionalizing innovation (and success): No nation gets its new workforce development approach exactly right out of the gate. A bedrock institutional commitment to innovation enables a nation to determine whats not working and design better ways moving forward. Cultivating and retaining top-notch programmatic leaders and program staff equipped with the technical expertise, institutional knowledge, and confidence from learned experience to achieve, sustain, and grow success across the organization through innovation is vital.

For more information about how tribal nations are crafting innovative, self-governed approaches to workforce development, please clickhere.

This essay is the eighth and final installment in a series of op-eds exploring the keys to success in and the key strategic considerations for tribal workforce development. It is drawn from a newtribal workforce development toolkit(see pages 32-35) produced by NCAIs Partnership for Tribal Governance.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Excellent Information!