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Ecuador RPCV Erik Janowsky, president and CEO of Workforce Development Services
Ecuador RPCV Erik Janowsky, president and CEO of Workforce Development Services
Janowsky: One-stop system on employment produces WorkOne
Oct 14, 2001 - South Bend Tribune Author(s): Erik Janowsky
Erik Janowsky, president and CEO of Workforce Development Services, is this week's Newsmaker.
Q. What is your educational and professional background?
A. I grew up in South Bend and am a graduate of Adams High School and the University of Notre Dame. I went to Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer just after receiving my bachelor of arts degree in 1987. I had always had an affinity for Latin America, studied Spanish in school and was anxious to become immersed in another culture. But a contributing factor was that I hated the thought of a 9 to 5 job after college and was looking for an adventure. Like so many Notre Dame students, I was also searching for a way to give back through service to others. As a result of my experience in Ecuador, community service became a vocation for me.
After the Peace Corps, I received a fellowship to enroll in a combined program of Latin American Studies and Public Health at Tulane University. Research for my master's thesis led me to Guatemala and Honduras to study the phenomenon of street children. Before I left Honduras, the director asked me to return and serve in the project for a year after completing my MA. The catch was that I had to raise the funds to pay my expenses during the year. Still I was excited at the prospect of working with the kids and for this project, and embarking on a career in community development.
I wrote to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh from Honduras for advice on how to come up with the money. A letter informed me that Father Ted had taken it upon himself to find a benefactor and had enclosed a check to pay for the entire year. He has taught me many things over the years about service work and the difference one person can make, and his faith and friendship have been an inspiration. He has done as much for countless young people who have had the good fortune to cross his path over the years, and he continues to do so today.
After the year in Honduras I returned to pursue my doctoral studies at Tulane. After completing all of the requirements but the dissertation, however, I shelved my degree to co-found a non-profit organization with another Notre Dame alumnus. Andean Health and Development Inc. (AHD) was formed to establish a model primary health care project in Ecuador. After several visits to Ecuador over a three- year period, I moved there in 1997 to run the project full-time. I also worked closely with the Ecuadorian government, the World Bank, CARE, USAID, Rotary International and other development agencies.
Founding AHD, from the initial feasibility study, to obtaining start- up funds, to establishing the model and running the project in Ecuador was a wonderful experience and invaluable education.
Two years ago I returned to South Bend and became a consultant working with a local agency serving the Hispanic population, all the while trying to reopen my dissertation. I became a member of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition and have volunteered to help with a needs assessment. I joined Workforce Development Services Inc. in November of last year as the executive vice president.
WDS Inc. is a non-profit organization that promotes economic and community development through a client-centered system of social and employment services, educational programs and training opportunities for individuals and businesses in five Indiana counties. Although it is a new organization, there is a rich history of service throughout northern Indiana. The work we do is vital to the community and I am honored to lead a staff of dedicated professionals who are continuously striving to improve services. I have been the president since this June. I am also a visiting fellow at Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies.
I look forward to getting involved in academic research again and possibly finding the impetus to finally finish the dissertation.
Q. What has been the net effect of the division last year of Workforce Development Services of Northern Indiana that produced Workforce Development Services Inc. that you head?
A. The effect of the split has probably been felt more internally than externally. We have worked hard to ensure that our clients and community partners have continued to receive quality services without interruption. All programs and services have been provided, for example, out of the same county offices that were used prior to the division. Differences should be more apparent as we implement new programs, welcome new partners and establish continuous improvement plans for customers.
The legislation that mandated the division, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, was designed to allow for a separation of program and administrative functions. As a service provider for this region, WDS Inc. is focused on delivering quality assistance to both job seekers and employers in the context of a workforce investment system with many partners. The Workforce Investment Board (WIB), which is the local planning, policy and oversight body, is charged with customizing the workforce investment system that is loosely defined by the Department of Labor and the state to the population of northern Indiana.
WDS Inc. and other providers must implement this "one-stop" delivery system in an integrated fashion to bring maximum returns to our clients in this region. It is a system that brings together all of the publicly supported employment and training programs to serve individuals and businesses under one roof and in a seamless fashion. In Indiana this "one-stop" system that you will hear more and more about in the future is called WorkOne. WDS Inc. has joined with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Transition Resources and Goodwill to operate the newly established WorkOne Centers in St.
Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko and Marshall counties.
As you can imagine, getting from where we were to where we want to be has not always been easy. At WDS Inc. there are challenges we still face in terms of establishing internal systems, policies and procedures, and strengthening external relationships. WDS Inc. is at once a relatively new organization that must implement a new "one- stop" system of workforce investment, and an established entity that has a long tradition of serving clients under the previous workforce investment system. I am proud of the progress we have made and optimistic about our ability to create the best WorkOne system in the state.
Q. What do you foresee as the level of employment as a result of the slowing economy and the terrorist attack on Sept. 11?
A. Unfortunately there is ample evidence of a downturn in the level of employment in this region; and undoubtedly things are going to get worse before they get better in the wake of Sept. 11. Since my arrival at WDS Inc. late last year, I have noticed a steady increase in the number of layoffs and plant closures. Our unit that deals with dislocated workers has been extremely busy working with state officials to deliver services pre- and post-layoff. Nationally the unemployment rate is at its highest level in four years; and the manufacturing sector has lost more than a million positions since the middle of last year.
That is alarming given this region's reliance on manufacturing jobs.
There are many positive signs that this economy will rebound and, locally, new jobs are being created even today. WDS Inc., for example, has the contract with AM General to provide pre-hire screening of all prospective hourly employees for the H1 and H2 plants. We have not been asked by the company to slow down our process since the Sept. 11 attacks. The announced increase in domestic spending by the federal government is also a good sign. Among other things, it will mean no cuts in the level of funding for dislocated workers in our area. This ensures that WDS Inc. will continue to serve as many people needing assistance with re-entry into employment as we possibly can.
Q. With the new year less than three months away, have you identified a top priority for WDS in 2002 and, if so, what is it and why?
A. Simply stated, the priority is our employees. WDS Inc. has recently completed a strategic plan that identifies our priorities for the next three years. While several issues stand out, from the development of the WorkOne system I mentioned before to a new community center serving the burgeoning Hispanic population in LaPorte County, the top priority is to develop the organization through investing in our people. WDS Inc. has just emerged from a transition year as a newly independent non-profit organization. We have faced many challenges and more lie ahead, some yet to be identified. WDS Inc.
is vital to this community, and that is especially true in times of rising unemployment.
In order to be successful, WDS Inc. must invest in its people and give them the training and tools necessary to best serve our clients in collaboration with our partners. We are working diligently to build strong internal systems and design innovative projects, while managing our existing programs. We are fully engaged with our partners to build and implement the new WorkOne system. We demand excellence, especially in customer service and satisfaction. All of this requires thinking about and doing things in new ways. The staff will be expected to learn quickly, adopt best practices and exceed national and state performance goals.
I have every confidence that they will. In turn, WDS, Inc. will continue to be successful and the community will benefit from a strong, integrated workforce investment system.