When Gov. Haley Barbour named Tommye Dale Favre the executive director of the revamped Mississippi Department of Employment Security on August 2, the former Mississippi Power Company human resources and job training specialist accepted the new challenge with her usual zeal.
“We’re very pleased for Tommye Dale and this new opportunity,” said Mississippi Power spokesperson Kurt Brautigam. “We have every expectation that she’ll accept this challenge with the enthusiasm and focus she’s always brought to her work for our company.”
On September 1, Favre will take the reigns of what was formerly known as the Mississippi Employment Security Commission, a 600-person agency that was restructured July 1 as a result of the Workforce Development Act of 2004, a sweeping overhaul of the state’s workforce training efforts that also mandated the agency move under the governor’s supervision.
Favre earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi in 1973, where she first met Barbour and later campaigned for him. She received a master’s of education degree in 1983 and a master’s degree in public relations in 1985 from the University of Southern Mississippi. During her 16 years at Mississippi Power Company, a 1,250-employee utility company serving 193,000 customers in 23 counties, she also served as a human resources supervisor, plant manager and senior training analyst.
The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Favre before she began her new job, and asked her about the challenges ahead, including merging the State Workforce Development Council, which oversees state workforce dollars, with the State Workforce Investment Board, which oversees federal workforce dollars. (The new State Workforce Investment Board will coordinate both state and federal workforce dollars.)
Mississippi Business Journal: What will the restructuring of the Department of Employment Security mean for both the state workforce and businesses operating in Mississippi?
Tommye Favre: The new department will be responsive to the needs of business in Mississippi by working with local economic development agencies and the businesses themselves to provide just-in-time training for employees and a base of skilled workers from which businesses can draw. It will become a “one-stop” shop for state workforce training and a source for the federal and state funds available for that training.
MBJ: What are the challenges you face getting a new department up and running?
TF: My first challenge will be assessing the current organization, what’s working and what’s not. Next, I need to focus on communicating the new vision and challenges to the employees and ensuring that they understand the expectations of their jobs. Some of these expectations may be very different than where they have focused their energies in the past.
MBJ: How will the department affect future economic development and business recruiting efforts?
TF: Mississippi continues to fight a negative image as a state which cannot provide a highly skilled and ready to work labor pool. If this department can do its part to undo that image, we will positively impact economic development.
MBJ: What sort of budget will you work with and how will that compare to the budgets available to the previous workforce training programs?
TF: About $140 million. The dollars available through federal training represent nearly $35 million. Mississippi has not always taken advantage of the dollars available and has, in some cases, forfeited its future funds allocation because it has not managed the process well. The money appears to be available to provide a first class system for the people of Mississippi.
MBJ: What sort of timeline do you envision for getting the department restructured and online in accordance with the governor’s plans?
TF: I’m sure the governor would like to hear me say, “We are already behind, and don’t have a moment to waste. That’s a fact.” Realistically, we need to take measurable steps each day to move this process forward in an effective manner.
MBJ: Briefly, what will be the structure of the department and how will staffing throughout the state compare to the numbers of staff members that previously provided workforce services through the various agencies?
TF: There are opportunities for streamlining the department to make it more efficient and effective. We will need to make better use of cross-training opportunities, eliminate redundancies in processes, take advantage of technology, and take a hard look at additional hiring until the new department settles down. Structure and staffing are the areas that make people most uncomfortable, so I take this responsibility very seriously. I know there are many employees out there who do a very good job every day.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.