DENNIS SEID, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
After 30 years in the community college system, including the past 13 as vice president of economic and community services at Itawamba Community College, James Williams has a new job.
Williams recently was named the executive director of the Mississippi’s State Workforce Board, and he hopes his experience in Northeast Mississippi will help bring more and better jobs to the entire state.
“The state has had a state workforce board for about 12 years, but they’ve never really had a staff,” Williams said. “It’s never been funded fully, but legislation last year made that possible now. It’s timely because the federal workforce system requires a lot of new planning. It’s an opportunity for the state initiatives and federal initiatives to work together and create a single workforce planning for the state.”
Said Jay Moon, president and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the SWIB chairman, “On behalf of the State Workforce Investment Board, I am pleased to welcome James to his new role as executive director. He brings years of workforce development experience to the table, and the SWIB and I look forward to working with him.”
The SWIB is working to consolidate and strengthen the state’s workforce development system in order to make it more efficient. It implemented a statewide performance management system – the Integrated Longitudinal Education and Workforce Performance Management System – which allows for the collection and analysis of education, training and placement data across all public workforce and education service providers throughout Mississippi.
But it does take money to do all that, and Williams said the state has to prioritize.
“With limited resources, we need to focus on the areas we need to bring attention to,” he said.
“For example, we do need workforce training, but let’s make targets like advanced manufacturing. Let’s put money in that to train the people to get good jobs. Also there are more workforce partners than just the community colleges. You have the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, the MDA, the Department of Human Services. . let’s come together and work on putting a pathway for people to have success.”
Mississippi’s unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in March – the most recent figures available – was the second-highest rate in the nation. In the 16-county region comprising Northeast Mississippi, the jobless rate was 6.5 percent, the lowest in nine years.
Those numbers show that state and local officials must continue to focus on getting more jobs.
Williams said the SWIB “can’t do everything,” but it can focus on the key areas that will lead to jobs. With the prospect of state agencies, the community colleges and others lined up to work together, he said leading the board was “an opportunity to really do some good work.”
Workforce training efforts have been piecemeal efforts in the past throughout the state, but the SWIB wants to make it a concerted effort. Williams’ work at ICC is expected to help him in his new role.
“One of the advantages we have in Northeast Mississippi, since we’re the one-stop operators, we’re very familiar with state workforce, federal workforce and some of the other agencies, so we have those relationships and understand how they work so we can see how to bring them all together to a common point,” he said.
“We do a lot of things well in Mississippi, but we do them independently. So we need to develop a workforce system where we prioritize, plan and implement and then review it so we know we’re getting what we’re asking for. It should be a good experience for everybody involved.”
Williams is well-known in Northeast Mississippi through his work at ICC. He and his colleagues provided workforce training and services to ICC’s service district, which included operating four WIN Job Centers, three of which were implemented under his leadership.
He also helped develop the Manufacturing Solutions Center located at ICC’s Belden Center, and played a leading role in the development of the Mississippi Corridor Consortium, a partnership between ICC, Northeast Mississippi Community College, East Mississippi Community College and Northwest Mississippi Community College.
While at ICC, he also has initiated the Counseling to Career program for economically-disadvantaged youth, established the largest National Career Readiness Center in Mississippi, developed the mobile career exploration laboratory for high school students and area residents in the area of advanced manufacturing, assisted with the establishment of Toyota’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician program and the development and implementation of the Make it in America grant internship program.
He also established the first Small Business Administration Center at Northeast Mississippi Community College.