Meet the new 'Dr. Commissioner'

Hank Hayes • Jan 13, 2019 at 10:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Call him “Dr. Commissioner.”

That’s the new working title for Dr. Jeff McCord of Kingsport, who likes to work in between the boxes.

McCord, Governor-elect Bill Lee’s pick to be the next commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, suggested Lee was “purposeful” about going outside the Nashville bubble of leaders to fill his Cabinet.

McCord’s current role as vice president for economic and workforce development at Northeast State Community College led to his appointment. He has led Workforce Solutions, a workforce development program that includes the development of registered apprenticeship programs and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), a technical career academy. He has more than 20 years of business and industry experience, including a number of leadership positions and specific experiences related to organizational effectiveness and corporate education.

“I think the reason I got invited to go talk to him and his team was that people come through the region, and I think (my) name came up and I’m sure they did a little more vetting after that. And then I went down and talked to them a lot about what we are doing here,” McCord noted. “We’ve been doing some great things here. ‘We’ is the operative word. You have a board chart, and we’ve got these boxes, and then you have the spaces between the boxes. We talked a lot about working in those white spaces. One of the fundamental things in methodology, if you want to improve something fast, go to the spaces where those handoffs happen. I work in those white spaces. In our region, we are good at working in the white spaces.

“We think about the five social institutions — family, church, government, education and business. You need all of those to work in those white spaces and we’re pretty good at that up here.”

McCord also addressed these questions:

This hasn’t been a high-profile job in the past. Would you agree with that?

“I don’t know. My experience has been mostly over the last seven years or so when I came to this position. Part of my responsibility is adult education and that’s all Department of Labor and Workforce Development, under that umbrella. I just know we worked with the commissioner in the Department of Labor.”

Give us an overview of the department. What does it do?

“There’s workers’ comp and unemployment insurance. You’ve got TOSHA (Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration). And then you’ve got workplace compliance, boiler inspections, elevator inspections, that sort of thing. And then you have the workforce development piece. There’s close to a half-million adults in Tennessee who don’t have a high school diploma. There’s an opportunity there to bring that along. There’s also a workforce services group which you see Kathy Pierce’s organization (Alliance for Business and Training) in our region that really works on training and retraining. The (department) budget is between $200 million and a quarter of a billion dollars.”

How has your current job prepared you for this job?

“The heavy, heavy emphasis with the governor-elect is technical education, and we have the ability in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to work with K-12, to work with ECD (Economic and Community Development), to work with TBR (Tennessee Board of Regents) to make that happen, including Corrections and our military to re-enter back into society. I know the diversity of experience I have in industry and on the education side. It’s a good spot. There won’t be a lot to learn.”

What do you see as the challenges facing the department?

“I don’t have a huge feel for that. I know that in the initial conversations I’ve had, automation, especially in the unemployment insurance side of it, is a big one and could prove beneficial in helping people get back to work quickly is one. Just that integration and collaboration with the other agencies, I think, is a big one as well and rallying around the three grand divisions. We’re all a little bit different, but we still have a common workforce issue no matter where you go.”

What’s your legacy here at Northeast State?

“We were the first community college to actually develop a U.S. Department of Labor-registered apprentice program. We’ve been recognized by (the) Brookings (Institution) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Association of Community Colleges for excellence. We’ve been able to work with a lot of different groups to make things happen for Northeast Tennessee. We don’t talk about (it) a lot.”