Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee quizzed commissioners of Economic & Community Development, Corrections, Labor & Workforce Development, Education and Health this week regarding their plans to collaborate to improve Tennessee’s workforce, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The queries came during the first round of state budget hearings, during which the new governor spoke with each commissioner in a public forum.
During his campaign, Lee often spoke of making the existing workforce healthier, bringing non-violent prisoners back into the workforce at the end of their periods of incarceration, and preparing more non-college bound students to enter the workplace with certifications.
“Workforce development cuts across multiple departments,” Lee said. “It’s important that we collectively focus on that.”
Economic & Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe, a holdover in that position from the Haslam administration, told Lee of the Workforce Solutions Initiative. He asked for funds to expand that program to include individuals to oversee efforts in both west and east Tennessee. “The question today has gone beyond, ‘what are your cash incentives and we understand your quality of life,’” Rolfe said. “Now they say, ‘let’s talk about your workforce.’ That continues to be the ‘it’ issue.”
“So, last year we did change our strategy,” Rolfe told the governor. “We brought our Labor and Workforce team to recruiting meetings. We also brought members of the Tennessee Board of Regents.” Rolfe agreed with Lee that the old model – recruiting a company to the state, having the company build its facility, and then offer the company help in holding a recruiting fair – is no longer viable. “Now we have the TCAT team at the table and the Workforce Development team at the table when we are negotiating and recruiting companies. It’s become much more effective, and kudos to those departments.”
Jeff McCord, the newly appointed commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development, told the governor his department has $82 million in the budget for workforce services. Still, McCord said, if a potential employer wants to know how many qualified potential employees exist in a certain community, the Labor & Workforce Development Department is already working with other departments to have the answers at their fingertips. “A lot of that is going to come from the educational institutions – how many people do you have in the pipeline who are welders? How many are machinists? Those numbers will come from the TBR side.”
McCord also praised regional efforts in Northeast and Northwest Tennessee to create Work Ready Communities, which provide potential employers with what amounts to a site certification for the workforce.