For many CLOs, the measure of the success of their learning and development initiatives lies in how effectively they enable the workforce to deliver bottom-line revenue, increased market share or higher sales. In the public sector, the goal is often different. And with unemployment figures creeping up nationwide, the stakes are increasingly high.
At the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES), the goal is to spur the economic growth of the state and help job seekers get back on track in the process. It’s a mission with a directive straight from the top: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
“When Gov. Barbour was elected, he ran on a platform that included as one of its top items the quality of the workforce,” said Tommye Dale Favre, executive director of MDES. “With that in mind, he wanted to align all of the workforce activities in the state so that we could focus our resources and our energy all in the same direction.”
MDES oversees the state’s workforce development activities in helping job seekers find work and employers find qualified employees. In addition to providing unemployment benefits, the agency focuses primarily on providing development opportunities to the state’s workers, especially the unemployed, and getting them back in the workforce.
“Our ultimate goal is to do what it takes to help people get to work,” Favre said. “There’s nothing more important in Mississippi to employers or potential employers than the quality of the workforce.”
The state’s Workforce Development Act of 2004 merged the 600-person Mississippi Employment Security Commission, responsible for administering unemployment insurance, job matching activities and labor market information, with the State Workforce Development Council, responsible for state workforce investment funds, and the federally funded State Workforce Investment Board to create MDES. The department acts as a conduit for workforce development money, funding programs administered by the four local workforce investment areas in Mississippi.
Favre said the move was designed so that “all the state and local activities and all state and local workforce training dollars were either administered or coordinated out of a single agency and that agency then would report directly to [the governor] as part of his cabinet.”
Favre was named to the cabinet-level executive director post in 2004, charged with oversight of state and federal funding for workforce development across Mississippi and answerable directly to the governor on development activities.
“He never stands up in front of any group of people [and] does not talk about the importance of the quality of the workforce and therefore the importance of good workforce training,” Favre said. “He has made [it] very clear to me from the first time I talked to him that was one of the most important things that he wanted to see through during his tenure as governor. He sees it as what lands companies in Mississippi, what keeps companies in Mississippi and what ultimately makes for the economic success of the state.”
Bringing Private Industry Insight to the Public Sector
Favre began her career as a teacher before moving into learning and development at Gulfport, Miss.-based Mississippi Power Company. During her 16 years there, Favre held a number of roles in human resources before taking on management of one of the company’s power plants. She later was given responsibility for the company’s leadership development program, building it from the ground up.
“It included succession planning and leadership development — all of the traditional things that you do in terms of positioning the company for having the right people in place to ensure that there’s good succession and knowledge transfer along the way,” Favre said.
Favre holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and two master’s degrees: one in education from the University of Mississippi and another in public relations from the University of Southern Mississippi. When Gov. Barbour came calling in September 2004 for someone to head up the newly reconstituted and refocused MDES, he wanted to bring Favre’s private sector experience to the public agency.
“Workforce development is one of the keys to job creation and Tommye Dale has vast experience in corporate training and educational programs,” Barbour said about the appointment, according to the Mississippi Business Journal. “She will lead our efforts in building a stronger workforce for Mississippi.” It was a step Favre was ready to take.
“Eventually you get to the point where you put your money where your mouth is,” Favre said. “For a long time, my job at Mississippi Power had been about changing the culture of the organization, coaching leaders, managing leaders [and] learning the same job skills that are necessary to take an organization that’s been pretty stuck in, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’
“I don’t say that unkindly about this agency, because it is filled with good people, but in many cases they have never had the opportunity to step out and initiate change and consider the possibility. I thought this was a good opportunity to take the lessons learned in the private sector and overlay them into a public sector agency.”
The initial challenge when Favre took over wasn’t delivering development to the state’s workers and working with employers, it was changing that culture. Favre said she brings a facilitative, cooperative management style to the challenge.
“I do believe in the abundance mentality. That’s very difficult to impose in the public sector sometimes because, through no fault of their own, everyone is forced to jockey for resources. I believe there’s enough to go around. I believe that if you work together, you can make things happen.”
MDES chief human capital officer Irish Kennedy Smothers said Favre brought a welcome change of thinking to a somewhat hidebound state government agency.
“She actually was the person who decided to have a chief learning officer in the organization, which was something that had never been done before,” Smothers said. “You rarely ever see that position in any type of public organization.”
That focus has allowed MDES to hone in on high-impact development activities. Through an offset of the state’s unemployment insurance, MDES is able to fund about $20 million per year of workforce training to retool workers for high-potential jobs. The state’s community colleges act as primary workforce training providers in that area.
“We try to work with them through our state workforce board to ensure that we are focused on demand-driven, high-impact training,” Favre said.
Favre’s focus has enabled MDES to invest in and create new approaches to serving the state’s constituents, including new services for laid-off workers.
“We had a totally different approach,” Smothers said. “We started call centers, which we never had before.” Smothers said the state’s two call centers now handle calls for people who have been laid off from their jobs, but also serve as conduits for job development activities.
“In the near future, we hope to get into more of that, where somebody can get full service through one of our call centers,” Favre said. “When they call in, we can help them more immediately get matched with potential jobs or hook them up with where to go for job training to get a new kind of job.”
MDES is also supporting two state Department of Labor development programs. The WIRED initiatives, short for Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development, focus on key regional priorities in east and southeast Mississippi, including entrepreneurship and creating centers of excellence in advanced manufacturing and construction.
When your development audience isn’t internal stakeholders but rather the state’s population at large, that creates a complex set of social and economic factors to measure impact of development programs. Add in politics and it becomes more complicated. Regardless, Favre said MDES is becoming increasingly sophisticated in measuring the success of the state’s workforce development efforts.
In conjunction with other state agencies, MDES has developed a system to track where development money is spent and quantify the impact it had on job seekers.
“We can track someone all the way through,” Favre said. “Did they get a job? Did they get job training? Did they get an increase in their income as a result of the training dollars spent?”
MDES is able to collect data and analyze information from the departments of education, correction, health and human services and track training that happens across the agencies, as well as training through the state’s 15 community colleges.
“If someone comes into one of our job centers and they go back to school using dollars in an individual training account for nursing training, we can track that investment all the way through. Did that person actually then complete the training, what industry was it for, did they get a job and did that job improve their per capita income?
“We’re one of the few states in the country that can do that, and that helps us make better decisions about where we invest our dollars. We don’t want to be investing in training that doesn’t lead to a better job or a job in a demand industry.”
While the bottom line result isn’t higher revenue or increased sales, there are specific benchmarks for the success of the state’s workforce investments. “It’s pretty simple,” Favre said. “Did the training result in an increase in per capita income for the citizens of the state? Does the training that a citizen gets help him improve his quality of life?”
With Mississippi unemployment reaching 9.6 percent in May, according to state figures, and a painful national recession that continues to linger, development is a way to get people back to work, as well as spur the state’s economic recovery and growth.
“If you’re seeing a growth in the per capita income of the workforce … you’re going to know if the economy is succeeding also,” Favre said. “Right now, you’re not going to see a lot of that because the economy has taken a downturn. If you’re investing in workforce training, you’re going to see companies thriving too, then.”
At the departmental level, Favre’s goal is to shift the culture of MDES and empower the employees to better serve the state’s employers and job seekers.
“Having an employee team that is always looking at ways to make that better is my ultimate goal,” Favre said. “My measure of success [is] that people come to me with good ideas and those ideas are not focused on the agency’s best interest necessarily, but the best interest of the customers. You have to have committed, empowered employees who have good information in order to do those things.
I think we have turned the corner. People have begun to look at the possibilities instead of just accepting the way things have always been. That’s where I started, with the way things have always been, and that’s not where I want to end up.”
- 5 Forces Shaping the Future of HR
- Why ‘Leaders Eat Last’
- Creating an environment for effective learning measurement
- Honest feedback plays a critical role in building cultural D&I
- Progressive Insurance gives interns an entry-level lesson in the new reality of office work
- Digital transformation through mindset, delivery and content
- Cloudy with a chance of budget approval