Job center specialist won't give up on his Janesville family

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Stacy Vogel
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
— Growing up in Chicago with five brothers and one sister, Ed Martinez quickly learned the importance of family.

When he came to Janesville in 1984, he found a whole new family at General Motors and in the community at large.

He described moving to Janesville as "probably the best thing that ever happened to me, besides getting married and having my kids."

Martinez, 52, won't give up on that family now that GM is gone. He's helping the community get back on its feet—one displaced worker at a time—at the Rock County Job Center Annex at the UAW Local 95 Hall.

"I see a lot of that parenting kind of skill in what (Martinez) brings to the job center," said Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. "He's an encouraging kind of parent. He's there to support and help people make wise choices."

In many ways, Martinez is a natural choice to help Janesville's displaced workers.

He put in 30 years with GM before retiring Feb. 1, including 11 years at the Janesville plant.

He's been transferred three times, including after being laid off from the La Grange, Ill., locomotive plant.

He knows just about everyone in the community through his work in organizations such as the American Red Cross, Alzheimer's Support Center and UAW veterans committee.

The workforce development board wanted someone who knows what the workers are going through when it hired case managers for the job center annex, Borremans said. But Martinez goes above and beyond because of his positive attitude.

"He's got the ability to just sit and talk to people and give them confidence without sounding kind of overbearing," Borremans said. "He builds their spirit."

At first, Martinez was a little overwhelmed with the transition, but the friendly job center staff quickly brought him up to speed, he said.

He spends most days at his office in the UAW hall, where he and fellow employment and training specialist Heath Bierman counsel displaced workers looking for jobs and going back to school. On Friday mornings, they facilitate "Java and Jobs," the successful networking program where unemployed workers discuss their problems and strategies.

Unemployed workers, stressed about the lack of jobs or nervous about re-entering school, find comfort in Martinez's chocolate-brown eyes and the warm smile under a salt-and-pepper moustache. Sometimes they come to him just to vent, he said.

Like a proud parent, he loves to talk about clients and friends who are doing well in retraining programs. He marvels at co-workers who did the same repetitive motion for hours and years now learning math and science and realizing what they're capable of.

"People that I thought would never be in school are so energized and coming up to me saying, 'All As. What do you think about that?'" he said.

But he knows it isn't easy for the new students. Every day he works with people such as Cindy Deegan, Beloit Township, who started training this month at 40 years old after losing her job at Alcoa Wheels.

"It's confusing; it's overwhelming," she said.

She finds Martinez down-to-earth and easy to talk to. He's very busy, but he's there for you when you need him, she said.

"If he doesn't know something, he'll find it out for you," she said.

As hard as the students are working to get retrained, they'll have to work just as hard to find jobs after graduation, Martinez said. Some might have to move or take on long commutes, though he's hopeful an educated workforce will attract more jobs to Janesville.

Martinez is making plans of his own for the end of the recession. In the spirit of practicing what he preaches, he hopes to finish his associate degree once things calm down at the job center.

After all, he said, he could become a displaced worker himself once the economy improves.

"Without education, you're just going to stand there and watch the world go by," he said.

Spoken like a true parent.

Last updated: 11:26 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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