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April 18th, 2021

new kdol secretary amber shultz portraitELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) has worked to undergo several major upgrades in the past several months and recently, a major change was made in the department’s administration. 

In late January, it was announced Amber Shultz would be named the new KDOL Secretary, succeeding Delia Garcia, who resigned in 2020. 

“When we began the search for the permanent Secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, we knew we needed someone who could both lead the agency in its continued efforts to improve services for unemployed Kansans and oversee a complete overhaul of the out-of-date IT system,” Kansas Gov. Kelly said in a release from the State of Kansas regarding Shultz’s appointment. “Amber has a wealth of leadership experience when it comes to technology and innovation, and I have no doubt she will hit the ground running at the Department of Labor as we work to modernize the unemployment insurance system. I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to Ryan Wright and Brett Flachsbarth, who both served as Acting Secretaries of Labor while we searched for the right candidate to fill the position permanently. “Under their leadership, and with the dedication of many hardworking KDOL employees, the agency made important progress in stabilizing the antiquated unemployment system, reducing the claim backlog and getting funds to Kansans who need it most.” 

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Shultz has worked in public service for nearly 25 years in many different capacities. 

“I've been in Kansas and Missouri for the past roughly 25 years, primarily in city governments and some private industry, but my areas of expertise are systems and data analytics, organizational collaboration and strategy and operations administration,” Shultz said. “Prior to working with KDOL, I was the general manager for the City of Lawrence Municipal Services and Operations, which worked with public works and utilities and the Solid Waste Department, things like that. Then before that, I was the deputy director at a company in Topeka and then prior to that, I was the assistant IT director for Jackson County, Mo. It's important for me to contribute to my professional community and I've been a little bit of everywhere in this general area. I've also worked with the Kansas chapter of the American Public Works Association, and that's been a really important job I've had. I was officially announced to the position on Kansas Day, and Gov. Kelly and her staff had been eager to get the position refilled, so it got done as quickly as possible without compromising anything I was doing with the City of Lawrence.”

Shultz said there will certainly be a lot of work for her to tackle in her new position. 

“Everyone's been watching the news lately, and one of the major challenges KDOL and Kansas cities are facing is unemployment claims,” Shultz said. “These are definitely not normal times and I've dedicated much of my career to public service and I understand people are frustrated, and I completely empathize with them because some of those people are my family and friends. When I was offered the opportunity to step in and help, I jumped at the chance, and my background's very qualified to take on this challenge and I'm really excited to be here for sure. I've got some goals that are at the forefront right now, and the biggest one includes getting the legitimate claims paid out, that's the top priority. Another thing is to continue the stabilization of our systems, then we also need to work on continue our modernization efforts and make sure all of our systems are up to date – the previous system was multiple decades old and was desperately in need of updates, which is why we're hitting the ground running making sure we're continuing to make those updates. We knew we needed to make things more efficient, and I knew it was important for me to quickly learn the complexities of not only the benefits themselves, but also our overall system, it's a lot to learn and take in, and there's a lot of data to take in.”

Gov. Kelly had announced as part of her proposed budget that the state would allocate $37.5 million to resume the process of modernizing KDOL’s 40-year-old IT system, which had been paused since the beginning of the pandemic. That modernization, Shultz said, is one of her long-term goals in her new position. 

“The big thing is our modernization efforts, we've got to keep everything up to date. Gov. Kelly had initiated that modernization program after she took office, and there's been some updates but it's not quite where we want because so much has had to be pushed back due to the pandemic, so we're going to continue working on that,” Shultz said. “At this point,  KDOL has eliminated the backlog of regular unemployment claims, which totaled approximately 25,000 at the pandemic’s  peak back in June. I'm happy that backlog has been eliminated, so right now, we're beginning to see things go much more smoothly – anyone who is owed even $1 will be getting their benefits. I know it's hard, and it's been incredibly frustrating, but if people will just remain patient, everything will go through.”

Overall, Shultz said, she is ready to get to work. 

“I’m honored and excited Gov. Kelly has provided me this opportunity,” Shultz said. “I value public service along with innovation and technology to solve issues, and I will use this experience along with our team to address the challenges ahead. I'm looking forward to helping people and I'm looking forward to reaching my goals.”

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