Marques takes over in PPWFC leadership change

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El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, who is also chairman of the committee that oversees the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said he’s not worried about the organization’s future despite  multiple personnel changes that include Executive Director Lisa Rice’s exit in November.

“There have been a lot of changes recently, but I’m not really concerned,” VanderWerf said. “The team is strong, and they’re doing good work. In any organization when there is a lot of change it can be challenging — sometimes difficult for employees, but the ones I’ve talked to are sticking it out.”

Traci Marques became interim executive director of PPWFC last month when Rice, who was hired May 26, “parted ways” with the center Nov. 9 before her six-month evaluation period ended.  Marques has the inside track to keep the job, and interviewed for the position when longtime PPWFC boss Charlie Whelan retired in February.

“I think she’s well qualified,” VanderWerf said. “She was one of the interviewees when Charlie left, and she scored very high.”

The Pikes Peak Workforce Center, which is primarily funded by federal grants, offers services to job seekers and employers in El Paso and Teller counties.

“I love the mission and vision of the workforce center,” Marques said. “You leave the job every day knowing you made a difference.”

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In addition to Rice’s departure, six mid-management positions have seen change since June 1 — two due to retirement, two when employees left for other opportunities and two when jobs were eliminated because of budget reductions. Only two of those have been filled.

Funding at PPWFC was cut by 24 percent — more than $2.2 million — when the new fiscal year began July 1. The cuts led to the August departure of five-year employee Dana Barton, whose position as director of business relations and employment development was eliminated, said Becca Tonn, the workforce center public information officer. Barton found a job as director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. Tonn said the other management position eliminated was Adult Team Leader, along with two lower-level jobs of volunteer coordinator and Governor’s summer job hunt coordinator. Those positions can’t be filled for two years, she said.

VanderWerf said any county employee in a senior position goes through a six-month evaluation period, but if Marques proves herself, “we will offer that position to her on a permanent basis.”

At a Dec. 1 board meeting, VanderWerf and the board essentially gave Marques a vote of confidence and said there will not be a national search for Rice’s replacement.

Marques said she appreciated VanderWerf’s candidness, but declined to comment on Rice’s departure, as did Tonn, who called it a “personnel matter.”

VanderWerf said it was a human resources matter but also said they “parted ways.”

Rice could not be reached for comment.

Marques declined to discuss Rice and her impact on the workforce center, but said the culture is positive.

“My philosophy is an open-door policy,” Marques said. “Staff can come talk with me any time they feel it’s necessary. Going through change is always difficult, but … transparency is important.”

Tonn has been on the job for two weeks, following the departure of Dean Miller, who became Congressman Doug Lamborn’s communications director. “It takes a while to adjust, but it’s a very upbeat culture here,” Tonn said. “People are moving forward through the changes.”

Marques said other changes are underway at the workforce center, including greater use of technology to help job seekers.

“We’re going to use technology to spread our message more,” she said. “We’re going to do live streaming on our workshops for people who have difficulty getting to our office at [the Citizens Service Center on West Garden of the Gods Road] and we will do webinars — like how to prepare for an interview — that people can access 24/7 on our website. We’ve been working on these ideas for about six months.”

To help counter the funding loss, Marques said six discretionary grants totaling $943,765 would help support PPWFC efforts.

PPWFC has six satellite locations, four in El Paso County — Mount Carmel Center for Excellence and the southeast YMCA in Colorado Springs, in Fountain and the county fairgrounds in Calhan — and two in Teller County, at the Woodland Park Library and in Cripple Creek.

Marques was hired five years ago to lead the PPWFC business relations group, and was the customer service and community outreach director for three years before becoming deputy director.

Asked if she felt a need to change the leadership style at PPWFC, Marques said, “It’s all about collaboration and what we do with our community partners and staff. It’s about giving support to staff to do what they need, and collaborating with the business community.”