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Staff implementing business-friendly legislation

Revamp continues at Department of Employment Security

Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) chief Tommye Dale Favre already had her hands full managing the largest overhaul of workforce training efforts in the state’s history.

Now Favre and her team are busy implementing changes in the enhanced delivery of workforce training as a result of Senate Bill 2480 being signed into law late last month. The legislation, retroactive to January 1, will provide an unemployment tax reduction for Mississippi employers totaling $35 million for 2005, redirect $20 million to fund additional workforce training programs at the state’s community colleges to help keep unemployment low, and protect the security of the unemployment Trust Fund.

“This bill will significantly benefit both the employers with the lower unemployment tax rates and the state’s workers, who will be given the expanded opportunity to learn new skills or upgrade their existing skills,” said Jim Lott, MDES deputy executive director. “This translates into higher incomes for the state. It’s a ‘win-win’ outcome.”

Last year, state lawmakers passed groundbreaking reforms to the state’s workforce system through The Mississippi Comprehensive Workforce Training and Education Consolidation Act of 2004. The bill renamed the Mississippi Employment Security Commission and moved the state agency under the governor’s purview.

Gov. Haley Barbour charged Favre, a former human resources executive for Mississippi Power Company, with strengthening partnerships with business, WIN Job Centers and community colleges through the 600-person state agency. The new agency’s mission, “Increasing Employment in Mississippi,” was selected to reflect the significant change in direction and purpose of the agency serving both businesses and the job seekers.

“The daily activity of each employee connects to the effort of putting people into jobs and/or helping them improve their job skills,” said Favre. “Each task either directly impacts a customer or supports the activities of those who touch the customer every day.”

Favre recently created the Office of Business Outreach, headed by Steve Hale, to connect businesses with the many employment and training services and programs offered through the network of the WIN Job Centers and to help defray the workforce and human resource development costs of new and existing businesses. The collaborative effort features partnerships between MDES, state agencies and other entities, including the Governor’s Office, Mississippi Development Authority, State Board of Community and Junior Colleges and the four Local Workforce Investment Areas. Among other mandates, Favre was tasked with merging the State Workforce Development Council, overseer of state workforce dollars, with the State Workforce Investment Board, which oversees federal workforce dollars. The new State Workforce Investment Board (WIB) coordinates both state and federal workforce dollars. The new 25-member State Workforce Investment Board (WIB) met for its first business meeting February 18.

“The group was outstanding,” said George Schloegel, WIB chairman and Hancock Bank CEO. “They represented a variety of organizations, yet they embraced the needs of the entire state.”

Beyond “the normal confusion that change brings about,” said Schloegel, there’s already evidence of “less confusion” on how the new organization will improve and implement workforce training. In addition to being less expensive to operate, the program has already resulted in “more direct access to meaningful workforce training (and) better results.”

The most significant change job seekers experience is the “one point of entry” for service at the WIN Job Centers, which are publicly funded employment resource centers serving as the state’s workforce broker. When a person enters the WIN Job Center, whether applying for unemployment benefits or seeking assistance with a job search, he or she will not be aware that staff members represent different programs of service. There will be a single application for services.

Needs will be assessed and various programs identified to meet the client’s requirements. Instead of one manager and fragmented services at each WIN Job Center, there will be only one manager, said MDES spokesperson Liz Barnett.

“Ms. Favre realizes change is difficult,” said Barnett. “And change brings on anxiety and stress. For some people, it appears to reflect a loss of security. But change is also exciting. It brings a challenge and allows creative breakthroughs and opportunities. MDES is an evolutionary change in progress. As new ideas emerge and the employees become even more aware of MDES’ role, any resistance will be substituted with eagerness to meet the challenges to serve the customers. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing one has made a difference in someone’s life.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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