Insight: Autumn 2008

Autumn 2008

Problem Solver: Sue Ambler

Q&A with Alumna Sue Ambler, CEO Workforce Development Council Snohomish County


UWB_InsightFall08-pt.inddBy Cliff Meyer

Sue's vision, leadership, energy and her ability to field one of the best WDC staffs in the country have been the principal drivers in turning around this WDC's performance," says Dale Peinecke, current chairman of the Board and CEO and president of Giddens Industries, an Everett based aircraft-parts manufacturer. "I believe the business community is beginning to recognize the WDC's significant shift in emphasis," Peinecke adds, "to going beyond the traditional role of dealing with the unemployed." For example, the Council's priorities include developing a 100 percent globally competitive workforce.


Notes Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, "Since coming to the WDC as its president, Sue Ambler has made many positive changes resulting in new opportunities for Snohomish County. She's also been a key component of the work we're doing to specifically target homelessness and affordable housing issues."


Ambler is an inspirational force. Curtis Takahashi (IAS '04), who joined the WDC as a manager last year after more than 15 years of career development experience, says, "Sue infuses an energy in our staff with her ‘go for it' attitude and ‘out of the box vision' that helps us aspire to higher goals," And when she addresses new graduates, he says, "It's her positive message that reminds us that if you remain determined and persist, you will eventually get there." While some similar agencies might limit their activities to redistributing federal and state worker-training funds, this WDC is aggressively seeking to do more, Takahashi adds. "Under Sue's leadership, we are developing a strong reputation as a leader in workforce development. We deliver services throughout our community from our Homeless Vet Stand Down to the youth Construction Carnival. We're now working with a nationally renowned author in the development of our career pathways tool."

By Cliff Meyer

Sue Ambler

UWB_InsightFall08-pt.inddSue Ambler (M.Ed '97) has won accolades as the CEO since 2006 of the Workforce Development Council Snohomish County (WDCSC), an agency formed shortly after a 1998 law consolidated some 70 federal programs related to worker training and employment services. The 52-year-old Bothell resident earned her bachelor's at Washington State University and then returned to the Puget Sound area, raising two sons with her husband, Lane Ambler, as well as working in the public and private sectors. She spent 16 years in public K-12 and higher education, and her experience includes teaching, setting curriculum standards, and career advising (as a founding staff member of Cascadia Community College). She completed her Master of Education degree at UW Bothell in 1997. This summer, INSIGHT asked Sue about her work and how a UW Bothell education has helped her meet the challenges.


INSIGHT: The Council is responsible for convening the county's leaders on workforce development strategy as well as helping people train for and find jobs. What is it best known for?

AMBLER: The WDCSC is best known for delivering services at the WorkSource "One-Stop" Career centers in Everett and Lynnwood. The career centers in Snohomish County served over 50,000 individuals last year. When I looked at that number I realized that it would fill Safeco Field! We not only work with people who are unemployed, but also people who are employed and want to make career changes. They come in and use services paid for by their taxes - resume writing, interviewing, and career searches. We also partner a lot with the community colleges and the universities in getting people connected.

INSIGHT: Do you have any favorite examples of people you've helped?

AMBLER: When the lumber industry really shut down around here, we had one student in particular that I worked with. He was a logger and made really good money at that time. He's now a registered nurse. This gentleman was a very hands-on guy, and being a nurse is very hands-on. We had funds available to help him pursue a baccalaureate degree at UW Bothell, but his family needed immediate income. Maybe down the road he'll pursue a BSN. There are so many examples like that.

Sue Ambler

INSIGHT: What are the most important personal skills you use in your work?

AMBLER: I am a collaborative person by nature. I operate with integrity and high standards, and I expect those who work with me will do the same. I don't make commitments that I cannot keep, rather I seek answers to the problems which develop. While it is the job of the Workforce Development Council to convene local stakeholders, I believe that we in Snohomish County take it to another level. I believe that the only way to know whether our work is aligned with stakeholders is to develop relationships and provide the opportunity for them to get to know you. As an example, I have been visiting with all the Snohomish County mayors and school superintendents and I'm having the greatest time! Not only am I getting to know the local communities in Snohomish County, I'm learning firsthand what some of the assets and needs are.

INSIGHT: How did your previous work and education lead you to this position, and help you accomplish your goals?

AMBLER: I was a small business owner and operator for 15 years before teaching part-time at Lake Washington Technical College. I wanted to share my love for clothing and textiles with others and enjoyed teaching my craft to students. Along the way I developed a passion for education, which led me to UW Bothell's Master of Education program. During one quarter of my graduate work, I was able to participate in a Readiness to Learn Grant at Bothell High School. That one quarter turned into over six years of working in an advocacy role for students and their families. The coursework at UW Bothell and a couple of summer courses at the Seattle campus literally changed my life.

INSIGHT: Did any particular courses or professors at UW Bothell shape your approach to your job?


The Workforce Development Council Snohomish County's four goals are to create a workforce development system that is:

  1. 100% globally competitive;
  2. Able to meet industry needs by filling 100% of job openings with qualified candidates;
  3. Able to help 100% of job candidates obtain and retain employment in Snohomish County; and
  4. Able to help 100% of businesses and job candidates to continuously enhance their productivity and prosperity.

AMBLER: There was no one course at UW Bothell that shaped me because it is such an interdisciplinary institution. And because of my education at UW Bothell I approach every situation in a holistic manner. I was taught to look at situations from the big picture, and to approach problems through an asset approach rather than looking at deficits.

INSIGHT: The Council seeks to build "a globally competitive and more responsive workforce development system." What are the keys to this, and how does UW Bothell fit within your initiatives?

AMBLER: One good example of partnership is through the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) awarded last year from the Governor's office. UW Bothell, along with the City of Bothell, took the lead in applying for an IPZ in the biomedical sector. As a result, the WDCs of Snohomish and King Counties have partnered with many others in working to support a biomedical institute at UW Bothell.

INSIGHT: Are there some special qualities you've noticed in UW Bothell alums?

AMBLER: UW Bothell alums are research-oriented and can thoughtfully synthesize and analyze a problem. The best thing is that they cannot only speak to the problem and solution, but they can write it!


Learn more about the Workforce Development Council Snohomish County at