Program Manager: Mark V. Thomas, M.B.A.
Senior Program Specialist: Marta Clinger

In the spring of 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded the Polk Partnership for Industrial Employment, led by Polk State College, with $2.1 million through the H-1B TechHire Partnership Grant (TechHire). TechHire funds innovative partnerships developed to train low-skilled workers for jobs in high-growth industries. The primary aim of the Polk Partnership for Industrial Employment is to train inmates for jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector.

Polk State’s partners on this initiative include:

  • Abe Brown Ministries, Inc.
  • Bartow Work Release Center
  • CareerSource Polk
  • Cutrale Citrus Juices, USA
  • Florida Department of Corrections
  • Lakeland Electric
  • Lakeland Housing Authority’s YouthBuild Program
  • Manufacturing and Supply Chain Alliance of Mid-Florida
  • MaxPak Total Packaging
  • PalletOne
  • Spherion Staffing

Members of the Polk Partnership are committed to removing barriers to employment for those with criminal records. To remove the educational barrier, Polk State conducts on-site training to prepare inmates to attain nationally recognized advanced manufacturing certifications, including the 10-Hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) General Industry credential, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council’s Certified Production Technician (MSSC CPT) designation, and the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute’s Mechanical Components 1 (PMMI MC1) Certificate. These designations provide participants with a competitive edge when applying for entry-level jobs in the advanced manufacturing industry. Representatives from the Polk Partnership also serve on an advisory board to ensure that the College is providing training that aligns with employers’ needs.

Polk State works with the Department of Corrections to identify participants within the Polk Correctional Institution based on release date, level of interest, and personal experience. The College also makes training available to residents of the Bartow Work Release Center. Abe Brown Ministries, a Tampa-based nonprofit that provides services to offenders and ex-offenders, helps to eliminate family and logistical barriers by providing services such as case management, life coaching, job retention support, access to bus cards, and other resources.

Those who successfully complete the Polk Partnership program are poised for employment as mechanics, first-line supervisors, and maintenance workers in advanced manufacturing. Locally, there are more than 500 manufacturers located in Polk County. According to the 2016 Occupations Report for Polk County, released by Economic Modeling Specialists International, there are 2,585 job openings expected over the next five years within the occupations targeted by the Polk Partnership. Additionally, the Partnership supports career training for first-line supervisors and industrial machinery mechanics, which are specifically indicated as high-skill, high-wage occupations by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. All of the targeted occupations pay well above Florida’s minimum wage.

The College projects that it will serve 325 participants during the four-year course of the grant. Individuals with criminal records are the primary, but not the exclusive, target of the program. Approximately 167 participants will be individuals with criminal records, 78 will be unemployed or underemployed, and 80 will be currently employed individuals in need of skills advancement.