As manufacturing continues to play a key role in diversifying Polk County’s economy, it’s clear that education is a vital component to ensuring a workforce that is trained to handle jobs that have changed considerably in the last 20 years.

Florida Polytechnic University, Polk State College, Florida Southern College and Southeastern University are all important parts of the process that ensure Polk County is preparing students to work in traditional and advanced manufacturing settings. 

The Central Florida Development Council caught up with Dr. Matt Bohm, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Florida Poly, and Dr. Orathai Northern, vice president of Workforce Education and Economic Development at Polk State College to get their take on this fast-growing field. Their responses follow.

 

What do you tell prospective students about advanced manufacturing when they are contemplating entering the field?

BOHM: We tell our students this is a growing area, especially with the renewed interest in American manufacturing since the pandemic highlighted supply chain issues. Technology is key to having a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing so we can overcome overseas labor costs.

How has manufacturing changed in the last 10 to 20 years?

BOHM: Manufacturing has changed drastically, especially as we are now transitioning through Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 and steaming ahead toward industry 5.0. Today, we are seeing much more sophisticated robotics in manufacturing, including co-bots that work hand in hand with a human operator. There is also a great deal more precision manufacturing thanks to advanced computer simulation and analysis.

NORTHERN: Manufacturing has seen constant growth and change over the last 20 years, and has increased focus on critical areas, including safety, automation, artificial intelligence and technological advances. Jobs that were once viewed as dirty and dangerous are now understood to be safe and rewarding careers. Organizations are also embracing life-long learning, which is paramount in an industry that continues to evolve technologically.

What are the most important skills you teach students who want to enter the field of manufacturing?

BOHM: Mainly, we teach our students how to be diverse and always prepared to adapt. It’s not just mechanical engineers who are involved with manufacturing; they must have a wide breadth of knowledge to support advanced manufacturing systems.  

NORTHERN: Both technical and soft skills are critical for employees in manufacturing due to ever-changing technology and the need to troubleshoot. Students also need foundational knowledge of manufacturing, the ability to think critically and keen attention to safety.

The Polk State Corporate College’s Advanced Manufacturing Institute trains individuals in a wide area of necessary skills, including mechanical and electrical troubleshooting, precision maintenance and operator equipment care. The Institute provides manufacturers with access to state-of-the-art technology, affordable workforce development and innovative training solutions to meet today’s market-driven economy, working diligently to close skill-set gaps.

Polk State also offers the Associate in Science in Engineering Technology Program, which provides training in two areas of specialization: Advanced Manufacturing and Mechanical Design & Fabrication. The Advanced Manufacturing specialization focuses on programmable logic controllers, robotics, and automation. The Mechanical Design & Fabrication specialization focuses on 3D modeling and computer numerical control (CNC) machining/programming.

Approximately how many students a semester seek degrees that will lead to jobs? What degrees or certificates do they pursue?

BOHM: Nearly every one of our majors at Florida Poly has an avenue toward manufacturing, whether it be electrical and computer engineers that may be responsible for configuring robotic controls systems, computer science students who help build advanced models and simulations or the typical mechanical engineer who might be concerned with material properties and performance. We have a steady stream of employers interested in all these types of students for a diverse array of manufacturing facilities.  

NORTHERN: Each year, an average of 115 students are enrolled in the Associate in Science in Engineering Technology and the Engineering Technology Support Certificate programs, achieving education and training to work in the field of manufacturing.

Additionally, through Polk State Corporate College, the college serves nearly 8,800 individuals each year with hands-on workforce training to achieve industry-recognized certifications in the field of manufacturing and production, including the likes of:

  • Certified Production Technician Certification
  • Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) 10 Training
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research Core
  • Electrical Certification

Do you have any idea how many students who graduate with certificates or degrees in the field go on to find jobs in Polk County? What type of jobs are they finding, and at what companies?

BOHM: Currently, between 15% and 20% of our graduates are employed in Polk County at companies such as Publix, FedEx, Veri Tread, Saddle Creek, DRAKEN International, MidFlorida Credit Union, Barney’s Pumps and Pennoni.

NORTHERN: Approximately 70% of Polk State students remain in Polk County after graduation. While it is difficult to track specifically where those who have completed manufacturing certifications and degrees are employed, the majority of individuals trained through the Polk State Corporate College are employed by Polk County organizations. Students who achieve degrees and certificates in areas of manufacturing go on to enjoy successful employment with several companies locally, including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Florida’s Natural, Publix, Mosaic, Nucor Steel, and more. Many of these companies also send their incumbent workers to Polk State to be upskilled through certification programs and specialized training to meet their workforce needs.

How important is manufacturing to the economy of Polk County?

BOHM: Manufacturing is highly important to Polk County, Central Florida and Florida as a whole. One of the main reasons Florida Poly exists is to help expand the Florida economy from primarily agriculture and tourism to technology and manufacturing. As a large county in Central Florida, Polk has the opportunity to lead the state in manufacturing, logistics and distribution.  

NORTHERN: With more than 800 manufacturers employing more than 18,000 in Polk County, Polk State College knows that manufacturing is critical to Polk County’s economy. Polk State is dedicated to providing quality training that will positively impact the economic development of Polk County, especially as manufacturing opportunities continue to grow.