The groundwork has been laid.
Edmond O'Neal says he wants to continue the course – with enhancements, naturally, based on current and projected workforce needs in the Fort Wayne area.
The 39-year-old will become CEO of Northeast Indiana Works when longtime executive Kathleen Randolph steps down.
Northeast Indiana Works, which helps individuals and employers with skills training and related concerns, announced Oct. 5 that Randolph will retire Dec. 31. She has spent 18 years in regional workforce development leadership, including overseeing the region's 11 WorkOne Northeast career centers.
Randolph said the Fort Wayne area's challenges “in ensuring a strong, skilled workforce – and in turn a robust regional economy – are no different from what other areas of the country face.”
She's optimistic, even hinting northeast Indiana might have an edge.
“... it is my belief that because of our region's dedication to working together, we are better positioned than most to meet those challenges,” she said.
O'Neal is president of Northeast Indiana Works and will add the CEO title Randolph held. He was previously chief operating officer and said many of those job functions overlapped with those of president.
In adding the CEO-level responsibilities, O'Neal said he expects to become even more visible. That includes working with other organizations, legislators and economic development officials to attract and retain talent.
One of the biggest responsibilities, he said, is to “carry on the legacy and the foundation of work that Kathleen has built over time.”
O'Neal expects the global coronavirus pandemic declared in March will continue to have ripple effects. Thousands of workers were sidelined as many businesses shut down during stay-at-home orders to help enforce social distancing. While the unemployment rate for most northeast Indiana counties has dropped from the dismal double-digit percentages recorded during the second quarter this year, there is still concern the jobs of hundreds of workers won't return.
State and local workforce officials have said the sudden economic crisis the coronavirus pandemic created can be an opportunity for displaced workers to seek additional skills that could lead to new job opportunities.
Most of the training individuals take through Northeast Indiana Works is free. The expense for employers who want to offer training to help workers improve or increase skills is a fraction of the actual cost, O'Neal said.
Northeast Indiana Works has 47 direct employees and manages an additional 22 who are technically employed by the state, but work in the area. The organization's budget fluctuates, funded partly through federal allocations funneled to the state's Workforce Development department, outside funders and grants.
O'Neal said the current year's operational budget is about $7 million, but stressed that “it could vary, and extremely fluctuate even with one grant.”
Training programs can run four weeks or up to six months, O'Neal said. In some cases, participants can earn widely respected industry certification credentials.
O'Neal said working to expand employee skill sets – particularly with knowledge that can lead to higher-wage jobs – and retaining and attracting talent remain goals.
“We've historically followed an employer-driven model,” O'Neal said.
He encourages employers to continue engaging.
“And then hopefully,” O'Neal said, “we all get the result we want, which is growing business in northeast Indiana and creating viable opportunities for individuals as well.”
Executive at a glance
Name: Edmond O'Neal
Title: Incoming CEO/president of Northeast Indiana Works
Background: More than 12 years' experience working within federal regulations, policies, procedures and fiscal management. Began working for Northeast Indiana Works in April 2010 as director of youth services. Also held positions as director, WorkOne Services and chief operating officer. He has been president since July 2018. Involved with several community organizations, including serving on the boards of Erin's House for Grieving Children, Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, and Fort Wayne Mayoral and Opportunity Advisory Council.
Education: Indiana University (Fort Wayne) Master of Business Administration; Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, Texas) Master of Education, counseling; Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) Bachelor of Arts, sociology
Organization at a glance
Name: Northeast Indiana Works
Goals: Ensuring the region has a workforce with a wide range of skills by providing innovative, customized services to meet the needs of employers across 11 counties: Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley.