Polk State College recently hosted its annual Manufacturing Day for high school students across Polk County to learn about the abundance of career opportunities in the industry as well as the pathways to achieving them through training at Polk State.
More than 400 students across 16 schools participated in the virtual event in October with representatives from nine local manufacturers: Campbell’s Snacks, Coca-Cola, Compass Blending, Createch Machine & Design, Florida Caribbean Distillers, Givaudan Flavors Corp., JBT Corp., Publix Super Markets, and Nucor Steel Florida. Additionally, students had the opportunity to hear from representatives with the Florida Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education Division and Polk State’s workforce training programs.
“Careers in manufacturing are diverse in the Polk County region and manufacturers are hiring,” Patti Gander with the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Alliance of Mid Florida shared with the students. “From high school diplomas all the way up to bachelor’s degree… from entry-level to working your way up to running a facility… manufacturing provides rewarding careers that pay well, and Polk State College has several programs to get you there.”
“Careers in manufacturing are diverse in the Polk County region and manufacturers are hiring. Polk State College has several programs to get you there.”
Manufacturing and Supply Chain Alliance of Mid Florida
Jamie Rowan, Program Coordinator for Polk State Corporate College’s Industrial Maintenance Program, and Maria Lehoczky, Director of Polk State’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management Program who also oversees certification and associate degree programs in Supply Chain Management and Transportation & Logistics, explained the affordable and flexible options available to achieving academic and career goals in manufacturing.
“At Polk State, we partner with these companies to find out the skillsets they are looking for and we provide the hands-on training,” Rowan explained. “We have more than 800 manufacturers right here in Polk County and they are begging for students – they are begging for employees.”
Rowan and Lehoczky added that training is “stackable.”
“Think of it as a ladder. Your certifications will get you a career to sustain yourself and then help you work up a ladder. Certifications give you college credit so when you decide it is time for your two-year or four-year degree, you already have the college credits toward that,” Rowan said.
And many companies will fund their employees’ education and training.
Coca-Cola Operations Manager Nicole Langone shared that the company invests in its employees by providing a tuition reimbursement program. She also highlighted company pillars including career development. She described the diversity of employees, illustrating how there are rewarding careers for individuals from all educational levels.
“We have folks with high school degrees, two-year degrees, and four-year degrees. We have engineers and others with degrees not typically related to manufacturing, such as microbiologists. We have several opportunities at our location, from forklift operator positions to food scientist positions,” Langone said of North America’s largest Coca-Cola site in Auburndale.
Polk County is also home to Nucor, North America’s largest steel manufacturer. In addition to the diversity of jobs and skillsets, Nucor Steel Florida Controller Corey Allain shared that jobs in manufacturing provide high wages and rewarding careers.
“Entry-level production does not require a college degree and you can make between $70,000 and $80,000 a year,” Allain said. “Nucor Steel also has low turnover because we are focused on taking care of the team and it’s a place where you can have a long rewarding career.”
He added that Nucor Steel’s mission is to be the world’s safest steel company and focuses on eliminating hazards and automating its processes. Manufacturing jobs no longer have the stigma of dirty and dangerous, with companies remaining focused on the health and safety of their employees.
Polk State is a proud partner of Nucor Steel. The Corporate College trained employees for the Frostproof plant through a five-week new-hire training program, The Essentials of Manufacturing, developed to meet Nucor Steel’s needs. The College is also proud to partner with Florida Can Manufacturing, a part of Florida Caribbean Distillers, to train employees for an aluminum can manufacturing facility that is under construction and will bring 500 jobs to Winter Haven.
Wyatt Dube, Technical Recruiter & Training Coordinator for Florida Caribbean Distillers, emphasized the wide variety of high-wage career opportunities in manufacturing.
“From operators to facilities maintenance to bottling mechanics or processors,” he said. “There are a lot of high-wage opportunities.”
The Florida Department of Education, through its Career and Technical Education (CTE) Division, works diligently to increase these opportunities and raise awareness of rewarding education and careers in manufacturing.
“We aim to ensure that every student, parent, and educator understands the opportunities available with high-value and industry-aligned workforce education and training,” said Henry Mack, Chancellor of Career and Adult Education. “In two years or less, students can acquire the in-demand skills and credentials they need to earn upwards of $68,000 a year in our manufacturing sector. We want students to take the opportunity, it’s waiting for them—right in their back yard with local providers like Polk State College.”
“We aim to ensure that every student, parent, and educator understands the opportunities available with high-value and industry-aligned workforce education and training. We want students to take the opportunity, it’s waiting for them—right in their back yard with local providers like Polk State College.”
Chancellor Henry Mack
Career and Adult Education
Florida Department of Education
Based on the 2020 College and Textbook Affordability Report, on average, tuition for CTE programs is approximately $3,200.
Rowan, the Program Coordinator for Polk State Corporate College’s Industrial Maintenance Program, echoed this point.
“Don’t let the cost of college scare you,” she said, pointing to grant funding opportunities through initiatives including the U.S. Department of Labor and Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation which provide training at no cost to students, as well as scholarships through the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Alliance of Mid Florida.
“There are lots of ways to pay or to get your education and training completely covered,” Rowan said. “Then you will get a career where you can make some really great money.”
Individuals who are interested in training through the Polk State Corporate College can contact Rowan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863.837.5954.
Individuals who are interested in certification and degree programs in Supply Chain Management or Transportation & Logistics Specialist can contact Maria Lehoczky at email@example.com or 863.669.2896.
This year’s Manufacturing Day event was recorded and will be available via the Polk County Manufacturing & Supply Chain Alliance of Mid Florida website in the coming weeks, along with the other Polk County manufacturing videos. Teachers and school counselors are encouraged to use the website as a career exploration resource to promote Polk County manufacturing and supply chain opportunities.
“Our goal is to spark interest in high-demand, high-paying jobs and careers and the Polk State degree and workforce certification programs that can put students on paths to futures in the growing manufacturing and supply chain industries,” Polk State Career Pathways Coordinator Christopher Yannes said. “We are grateful to our industry and education partners for making Manufacturing Day tours successful events for Polk County’s students each year.”