Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Buron reduces employment barriers

Alum Dan Buron helps to connect the business community with potential employees who might otherwise be overlooked.

Dan Buron standing in a warehouse with donated clothing behind him

Dan Buron became executive director of Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Michigan in 2012.

As executive director for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Michigan, Buron oversees a staff of 120 people who help people with disabilities and other barriers achieve full participation in society by providing vocational evaluation, training, employment and job-placement and retention services.

"We help prepare the individual to be successful in employment and work with businesses to understand the ability and potential of these individuals," Buron says. "With the changing economic and workforce structure in our country, our work to ensure this group does not get left behind becomes even more important."

Buron became executive director in Adrian in 2012, after serving as chief workforce development officer for Goodwill in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In that position Buron brought together the government, business and nonprofit sectors to make the system more effective and seamless. "The emphasis is on the 'overlooked' workforce, which can include people with disabilities or felony convictions, or people who have had limited or poor work experiences," Buron says. "We also help veterans, many of whom need help translating how their military experiences and skills transfer to the private sector."

He joined Goodwill's national office in Washington, D.C., soon after graduating in 1998 from what was then the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs. "As a national workforce development consultant, I supported local Goodwills throughout the country on the implementation of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act and other national workforce development programs," Buron says. "The broader work at the national office provided a great opportunity to see the workforce development system at the macro level."

Buron's internship with the National Governors Association between his first and second years at La Follette helped him get that first job. "From that experience, I had a great tangible project that I could use to demonstrate my capacity to do complex projects successfully," Buron says. "That internship was the main reason I was initially interviewed at the national office for Goodwill. The hiring director was interested in the national best practices work that I did and how that could work for Goodwill."

After four years in D.C., Buron decided he wanted a more hands-on job, so he headed to a Goodwill in Indiana. "At the end of the day, I was interested in seeing how policy intersected with implementation at the local level—what impact was possible given the constraints of time, resources, and local/national policy," Buron says.

From there he went to Hawaii and then, in 2007, landed in Grand Rapids, where he provided executive leadership and management for all workforce development programs, including planning, developing and implementing programs that create social value for the community. He also served with several nonprofit organizations in Grand Rapids, including the Sustainable Business Forum, United Way's executive group, the Coalition to End Homelessness and a faith-based initiative for neighborhood sustainability.

Throughout his career, the training he gained at La Follette has been invaluable. "The quantitative skills courses helped me in understanding what could be known, what was not possible to know, and what we needed to know based on the information available to us," Buron says. "I often run into situations where individuals were making decisions and conclusions that should not be made based on the information we had at the time."

Buron always knew he wanted to go into nonprofit administration. He took advantage of the many options available through La Follette by taking classes in policy analysis and administration, as well as classes in the business school. "I found the flexibility to be able to take classes in other departments to be a great way for me to round out my educational experience," he says. "The instruction at La Follette is excellent — the faculty are committed to being great teachers and researchers. They really want you to learn and challenge you to stretch your thinking."

The analytical and writing rigor required at La Follette established a strong foundation for Buron's work in the nonprofit sector. "La Follette was instrumental in the success of my career," he says. "I learned to effectively analyze and understand financial and programmatic data in making decisions and to communicate them in writing and orally. This coupled with the administration classes provided me an understanding of how systems and organizations work. Having an understanding of how to analyze information, use this information, as well as the limitations of this information, has been invaluable in developing credibility and success in my career."

A version of this article appears in the fall 2012 La Follette Notes newsletter for alumni and friends.