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Polk Ranks Top 10 in Talent Attraction

December 8, 2022 News

The need for talent ranks high in many markets, and Polk County is no different. Ranked Top 10 in talent attraction by Lightcast – showcased its retention of a skilled workforce and diversification of opportunity.

In Lightcast’s (formerly Emsi Burning Glass) 2022 Talent Attraction Scorecard, which the company produces “to help communities understand how they were doing at attracting and developing talent,” Polk County ranks in the Top 10 counties in the Talent Attraction Scorecard. Its 54.8% ranking is seven points shy of the national average. An engaged workforce is critical to a strong talent pipeline, the Scorecard says.  

The 2022 scorecard lands Polk in the top 10 for a second consecutive year.

Florida was ranked first among all states in the Scorecard, and Polk County was ranked 10th among counties with 100,000 or more people. The ranking is based on a variety of factors that include migration, education, skilled job change and more. Florida also was ranked third for the percentage of year-over-year job growth from 2017 to 2022 – about 5%. 

A strong talent pipeline is critical to ensuring a steady supply of qualified workers, and two of the tips the Scorecard offers says counties should look close to home by “unearthing unexpected talent” and focusing on skills.  

Labor Force Participation

The report also offers suggestions for ways to improve. The percentage of people actively in the workforce lags just behind the national average, giving the county an opportunity to find talent close to home, especially by focusing on skills. Trying to improve Polk County’s labor force participation rate is an important goal that many people are focusing on.  

“A lack of labor force participation is not unique to Polk County,” said CareerSource Polk President and CEO Stacy Campbell-Domineck.“ This is a challenge we are seeing nationwide. At CareerSource Polk we focus on the many opportunities that are available in our area and work diligently to ensure that this information is reaching our community.” 

Campbell-Domineck said the first thing to accomplish in improving the rate is to gain a better understanding of why people are not actively seeking employment. “Is it due to them being unaware of the many job opportunities that are available? Individuals may also be dealing with a ‘benefits cliff.’ For those receiving government benefits, increased employment earnings could unintentionally leave them in a position where they are making too much money to qualify for a certain level of benefits, but they aren’t making enough money to sustain their household. Because government assistance is based on an individual’s unique situation and a range of other factors, finding where this ‘cliff’ begins can be extremely challenging. So rather than risk placing themselves in an even more difficult financial position, these individuals turn down employment opportunities.” 

Companies need to ensure people know about what positions entail and the benefits that come along with the salary. “CareerSource Polk also offers services that will assist individuals looking to return to the workforce, such as resume assistance and assisting with their job search. A key advantage that we offer is being able to provide job seekers with a bigger picture of the many work opportunities available in Polk.” 

Education for Talent Attraction

Polk State College President Angela Garcia Falconetti, who follows such reports, said: “Polk County has an opportunity to increase its labor participation to enhance economic growth. A higher participation in the labor force results in higher tax revenues and, more importantly, the opportunity to educate and train residents to fill critical workforce needs.” 

People with more education are more likely to be part of the labor force, she said. “According to a report by the Congressional Record Office, the participation rate of men ages 25 to 54 with at least a college degree was 9 percentage points higher than the rate for men without a college degree. For women, the difference was 13 percentage points. For both, since about 2000, the difference in labor force participation between people with more education and people with less education has grown.” 

“What we can do is expand access to higher education and workforce training. For Polk State, that is taking place in Polk County’s fastest-growing region in the Northeast, where the beginning phases of development for the Polk State Haines City Campus is underway,” Falconetti said. “Within a 10-mile radius of the site, there are more than 80,000 residents whose highest educational attainment is a high school diploma or some college but no degree. In the next decade, Florida projects nearly 17,000 new jobs within this radius.” 

The new location will help students who now must drive about 30 miles round trip to the closest of the college’s seven locations. “This Polk State location will make quality education more accessible to thousands and boost labor participation, based on the trends reported.” 

Lisa Hall, director of Business Development at Rita Staffing, said many people who started working “gig” jobs during the pandemic are no longer looking for full-time employment. “Our secondary schools need to be accessible and help explain the value and long-term benefits of furthering their education. It’s important to promote training that aligns with the jobs that are needed most in our area.” 

Unearthing Unexpected Talent

Campbell-Domineck said she agrees that companies need to seek new talent. “First, employers really need to take the time to understand the needs of the workforce. You may have a number of people who want to work, but are saying, ‘I have child-care issues, so can I work on these days?’ There are also individuals who may not want to work full time, so employers need to consider their position requirements and how they allow their employees to work.” 

That exploration includes potential remote work or flexible schedules that allow for work on certain days or hours, she said.  

“Businesses should also consider creating strategies to address workforce needs. For example, the Lightcast study mentions ‘housing is now the new economic development.’ As a result, our organization is encouraging companies to look internally to see how they can be part of the solution in addressing the housing crisis,” Campbell-Domineck said. “There are businesses that are currently looking into what solutions they can provide, such as seeking out ways to reduce commute times and cut down on transportation.” 

CareerSource Polk encourages employers to review their needs and hiring strategies, ensuring they are pliable enough to adapt to what job candidates are looking for. Along with  housing and transportation costs, the agency is also encouraging employers to: 

  • Promote from within.  
  • Address the needs of the workers they employ. 
  • Focus less on experience and more on skills. “Sometimes people have the skill set you need, but if your formula is you look at a resume first and highlight experience, you could miss out on opportunities.”   

Falconetti said the college and leaders in the county are working together to find innovative ways to unearth unexpected talent. “The college is proud to partner with industry leaders across sectors, including Polk County Public Schools, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Mosaic and AdventHealth to grow and retain talent.” 

Polk State announced in November 2022 that AdventHealth donated $1.7 million to the college’s Foundation in support of its Nursing Program. “This endowment provides the resources for Polk State to recruit and retain an AdventHealth Dean of Nursing, who will provide support for the expansion of Polk State’s limited-access, highly sought-after Nursing Program, as well as ensure the College keeps its finger on the pulse of industry needs in direct partnership with AdventHealth,” she said.  

The Need for Skills

Part of the workforce issue revolves around skills – ensuring the workforce and potential employees have the skills needed for the jobs they are seeking. Polk State College prepares its students to enter a job ready to work by ensuring relevant training, Falconetti said.  

“Through partnerships with local employers, students also have the opportunity to receive valuable hands-on experiences – some within the facilities they will go on to work in their professions,” she said. “It is critical that employers and higher education institutions continue to work together to ensure education and training needs are met.  

Hall said Rita Staffing is also encouraging employers to focus on skills. “Taking a skills-focused approach to recruitment and hiring helps offset the chance that a candidate who may be a great fit is not overlooked because they do not have a significant amount of experience.” 

Campbell-Domineck said “increasing opportunities for upskilling is critical. The workforce system, educational institutions — we are all emphasizing the benefits of credentials and apprenticeships. There is a need to introduce more apprenticeships so part of that includes connecting businesses with our high schools to help introduce skills-based careers.” 

The agency has several programs to help in that regard:  

  • Its Young Leaders team, which serves ages 16 to 24, is engaging high schools to assist students in exploring new career paths and informing them of educational opportunities. 
  • It is offering tuition assistance of up to $15,000 to young adults ages 18 to 24 as well as veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses who want to enter in-demand careers. 

Hall said employers should also teach skills. “It really depends on the job. Some of our open positions just require a strong work ethic and the ability to learn. Many employers are willing to train the skills if the candidate has the right attitude and is a fit for their culture.” 

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