While many other states had just gotten started identifying their priorities, Mississippi became the first state in the nation to submit its Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Plan. The Magnolia State completed its comprehensive proposal to close the middle-skill job gap and increase workforce participation, and mailed it to the U.S. Department of Labor nearly five months before the federal deadline — and before there was even a portal to accept it by electronic transmission.
How did Mississippi manage to complete its new workforce investment plan with such haste? Here are four things that the miracle workers in Mississippi did, and that can be emulated by those bringing plans together:
1. WIOA became a political priority
There isn’t a governor in the nation for whom job creation isn’t a primary goal. But Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quickly recognized WIOA for the once-in-a-political-lifetime opportunity is was. In his inaugural address Bryant had promised that every Mississippian who wants a job should be able to get one — and from the moment of his election in 2012, the state’s unemployment did fall along with the joblessness across the rest of the nation. But on the same week that WIOA was passed in July of 2014, the U.S. Labor Department announced that Mississippi’s unemployment rate was the worst in the nation at 7.9 percent.
As any economist will attest, there’s only so much a governor can actually do to impact the economy — but as any political scientist will argue, a promises is a promise. With his first opportunity for re-election approaching, the WIOA planning process gave Bryant an opportunity to demonstrate through leadership that he’s been making big strides toward his pledge.
You don’t necessarily need to make the political stars align to make WIOA implementation a priority in your state. Bipartisan consensus, federal funding and flexibility in how states implement programs makes this a rare win-win-win that every governor can back with confidence. The only real obstacle is visibility — for many governors, WIOA is still slightly off radar.
2. The state identified a technological jumping off point
From the start, leaders from Mississippi’s workforce board knew they didn’t want to reinvent a technological home for the state’s WIOA programs. An Aligned and Integrated Technology Group was created and tasked with understanding the federal requirements, leveraging resources and integrating the state’s already functioning and award-winning digital employment information clearinghouse, Mississippi Works, as the place residents would go to access information on WIOA programs.
3. Leaders set a short timeline for completion of their plan
One month. That’s the amount of time Mississippi gave itself to get all of its workgroups, stakeholders, subject matter experts and implementation teams to offer their ideas, plans and proposals before the issuance of an initial draft of the combined state plan. The second draft was due to come a month later, following gatherings of focus groups and a period for public comment. Less than a month after that, the final draft was due.
To facilitate this lightning-fast schedule, those tasked with writing the plan in Mississippi did what many other states will have to do if they want to complete their WIOA processes by the federal deadline. They began drafting it right away by collecting and the notes and materials from planning workgroup meetings and subject matter expert interviews as they happened.
4. Leaders prioritized staying on task and communication
The WIOA management team had many responsibilities, but it’s primary role was very, very clear: It’s “main responsibility,” according to the state’s planning document “is to ensure that the other groups are on task and on time.” The name of the management team gave another clue as the priorities — is was called “the Planning and Communication Group.” With such a tight timeline to adhere to, and more than a dozen other groups and teams to align, Mississippi’s leaders recognized from the start that communication was of the utmost importance. The Statewide Workforce Investment Board published weekly updates to keep internal players and the public alike informed of the process, and a communication plan — all-too-often a reactionary afterthought in initiatives like this — was proactively developed “to maintain a systematic method of communication across all parties and ensure a consistent flow of information across all involved parties.”