Polk State and Partners Win Federal Grant to Train Inmates for Manufacturing Jobs

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Polk State College has been selected to receive federal grant dollars to train inmates for high-skill, high-wage, high-demand jobs.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that the Polk Partnership for Industrial Employment, led by Polk State College, has received $2.1 million through the TechHire grant program, which 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.

“This is outstanding news for Polk State and members of the Polk Partnership, but even more so for Polk County,” said Polk State President Eileen Holden.

“With this grant award, Polk State has been entrusted to equip those currently incarcerated with the skills they need to start over in life, and to provide local manufacturers with a new source of highly skilled — and desperately needed — employees. We will deliver on both fronts, and in doing so, we will change lives and entire enterprises.”

Polk State’s partners in the Polk Partnership for Industrial Employment 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
Spherion Staffing

Members of the Polk Partnership have each committed to removing barriers to employment for those with criminal records.

“In applying for this grant, we did our research,” said Howard Drake, director of applied technology grants at the Polk State Corporate College.

“The U.S. Department of Justice identifies four primary barriers to employment for those with criminal backgrounds, including a lack of education, family and logistical challenges — such as lack of child care, transportation, or housing — lack of motivation and positive attitude, and reluctance on the part of employers to hire these individuals. This program has been strategically designed to address — and eliminate — each of those obstacles.”

To remove the educational barrier, Polk State will conduct on-site training to prepare inmates to attain nationally recognized advanced manufacturing certifications, including the 10-hour OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) General Industry credential; the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council’s Certified Production Technician (MSSC CPT) certification; and the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute’s Mechanical Components 1 (PMMI MC1) certification. Attaining these certifications will give program participants a competitive edge when applying for entry-level jobs in the advanced manufacturing industry.

Polk State will work with the Department of Corrections to identify participants at the Polk Correctional Institution based on release date, level of interest, and personal experience. Polk State will also make training available to residents of the Bartow Work Release Center.

To address employer reluctance to hire, Polk State has partnered with employers who have agreed to provide on-the-job training, paid internships, and to consider program participants for job vacancies. The Manufacturing Supply Chain Alliance of Mid-Florida will provide additional support by promoting program completers on its website.

“The MSCA members have been so happy with the training that Polk has given to our local manufacturers in the past, and we are sure we will see additional benefits from this partnership,” said Joy Clancey, director of the MSCA.

“In Polk County, manufacturers have a lot of people retiring and a lot of jobs that need to be filled. It’s important to get younger people involved to fill those vacancies, and we think this is a great step in the right direction.”

Abe Brown Ministries, a Tampa-based nonprofit that provides services to offenders and ex-offenders, will help 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.

“Abe Brown Ministries, Inc., has served offenders, ex-offenders and their families since 1976. Upon replicating the nationally acclaimed Ready4Work program in 2014, the ministry provides holistic workforce training and job placement services to underserved communities, specifically citizens returning from incarceration. Abe Brown Ministries is excited to offer its Ready4Work-Hillsborough services to clients who have been certified through Polk State College’s advanced manufacturing program at Polk Correctional Institution,” said Lindsey Askew, Ready4Work-Hillsborough program administrator for Abe Brown.

Representatives from the Polk Partnership will also serve on an advisory board to ensure the College is providing training that aligns with employers’ needs.

Those who successfully complete the Polk Partnership program will be 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 Economic Modeling Specialists International’s 2016 Occupations Report for Polk County, there will be 2,585 job openings in the occupations targeted by the Polk Partnership within the next five years. Of the occupations targeted by the Polk Partnership, first-line supervisors and industrial machinery mechanics are considered high-skill, high-wage by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. All of the targeted occupations pay well above Florida’s minimum wage.

The Polk Partnership program is needed now more than ever, Polk State wrote in its application for the grant, because technology is transforming the advanced manufacturing industry, creating a dearth of qualified workers. At the same time, technology has made it easy to perform background checks, making it difficult for those with criminal records to be competitive in the workforce.

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

Polk State has previously received DOL grants for workforce development, including funding to expand training opportunities for the unemployed, especially those affected by foreign trade, and to provide accelerated training in advanced manufacturing.