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Three Polk Colleges Contribute to the Advanced Manufacturing Talent Pipeline

October 27, 2022 News

Having graduates ready to step into jobs in tech-enabled manufacturing is critical to the growth of this industry in Polk County. These jobs drive average annual wages, higher-skilled talent and increased capital investment.

Three local colleges – Florida Polytechnic University, Florida Southern College and Polk State College – are important institutions that graduate students equipped for tech-enabled manufacturing opportunities. They work with local businesses to establish curriculum, offer internships and more.   

For instance, for the next five years and beyond, Polk State College’s Corporate College will continue to meet the growing needs of advanced manufacturing and related industries, said Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti, President of Polk State College. “As the Corporate College undergoes the strategic planning process, it remains dedicated to deploying training solutions to the influx of employers in our region and positioned to serve as the premier training solutions provider in Polk County and beyond.” 

Polk State College Corporate College 

Polk State College’s Corporate College provides customized workforce training for regional employers, serving about 9,000 individuals each year, Falconetti said. “It evolves to meet the training needs as workforce demands and technology change.” 

Advanced manufacturing is the Corporate College’s largest industry partner, Falconetti said. “With technology increasing at a rapid rate, the Corporate College must stay abreast of the trends, forecasts and equipment needed to provide training solutions that meet demand. The Corporate College moves and pivots at the speed of business.” 

To offer training that meets industry needs, Polk State College taps into the expertise of local employers through its advisory board, Falconetti said. “The Corporate College’s advisory board is comprised of industry leaders who assist in helping us understand, address and prepare to meet the current and future training needs.” 

It also stays in touch with employers and gets input from focus groups, community meetings and events, personal visits and referrals, she said. “The Corporate College is in continuous contact with employers to remain responsive and flexible. Its (quality management certification) demonstrates process efficiency and gives partnering employers the confidence that their training investment dollars are maximized.” 

When an employer wants training, it informs the college of its specific requirements, Falconetti said. “Together, the entities establish competency attainment goals, national certification alignment, timelines, number of participants, hands-on components and resource investment. The Corporate College presents the training solution to the employer for agreement and a training contract is subsequently executed. At the conclusion of the training, an evaluation is conducted with the employer and participants to ensure that all training needs have been met.” 

Falconetti said students receive A+ training from industry subject matter experts. “Content is current, relevant and often leads to national third-party certifications that are portable and serve as validation for competency attainment. Often, the training solutions articulate to an academic pathway toward a degree and further supplying manufacturing talent.” 

The Corporate College opened in 2000 at the Lakeland Campus before moving to Airside West in 2007 and then to the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Bartow in 2014. “The venue changes were a direct result of growth throughout Polk County and an increase in demand, illustrated by the generous donations that made the facility possible.” Those donations included: 

  • $12 million and 20 acres from Clear Springs. 
  • $2.5 million from the Polk County Board of County Commissioners. 
  • $2 million in in-kind donations. 
  • $250,000 from area employers and supporters.  

With all that community support, the college “must continue to demonstrate a commitment to excellence via accreditation and industry responsiveness through collaboration. The Corporate College recently began the strategic planning process to ensure that the training needs of the community continue to be met,” Falconetti said. 

Florida Southern College 

Florida Southern College in Lakeland offers an Applied Math degree program that can lead to careers in tech-enabled manufacturing, increasing the supply of manufacturing talent.  

J. Michael Weber, Dean and Professor of Marketing at the Barney Barnett School of Business & Free Enterprise, said the faculty in the school have identified important traits for the manufacturing industry that focus on “developing analytical skills, critical thinking, decision making and communications.” Some of those courses are Total Quality Management, Operations Management, Project Management and Lean Six Sigma, all of which emphasize the development of those traits and lead to the Principles of Lean Manufacturing.   

Susan Serrano, associate professor of Mathematics and chair of the Math Department, said: “The Applied Math & Statistics major is well suited to the manufacturing industry because our majors all take multiple statistics courses.” Statistics can be used in various areas of manufacturing:  

  • Data analysis can be used to “identify consumer characteristics and model demand. This can help in decision-making in both long and short-term business planning.” 
  • Hypothesis testing can be used for quality control and identifying successful strategies. “A graduate should also be able to determine if machines are manufacturing with a tolerable level of error and if a given strategy is successfully achieving what it was designed to do. Both of these are achievable using hypothesis testing, which is heavily emphasized in our program.” 
  • Survival Analysis can be used to project the lifespan of manufacturing equipment.’ 

“There is plenty for a successful graduate with an Applied Mathematics degree to do in manufacturing,” Serrano said. “For the companies that are interested in using predictive analytics, we now offer a Data Analytics major, which can be applied to all industries, including manufacturing.”  

Florida Polytechnic University 

Florida Poly offers several degrees that include classes in manufacturing, and the bachelor of science in Mechanical Engineering (Materials and Advanced Manufacturing) is in sync with the type of companies Polk County wants to attract.  

As Florida’s only state university devoted specifically to STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math), Florida Poly graduates the type of students that are needed and wanted in Polk County. The goal is to entice graduates to stay in Polk County, and some do. 

“We don’t have specific data about our graduates working in manufacturing jobs in Polk County. However, we know that between 15% and 20% of Florida Poly graduates are employed in Polk at places such as Publix, FedEx, Veri Tread, Saddle Creek, DRAKEN International, MidFlorida Credit Union, Barney’s Pumps and Pennoni,” said Matt Bohm, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.  

The university has relationships with many of those companies through its advisory board, Bohm said. “We regularly solicit feedback from our Curriculum Advisory Board, whose members mostly include industry people related to the field of the degree program. This helps us keep our curriculum up to date while also maintaining appropriate standards for our accrediting bodies. Our degree programs provide our students with a wide body of knowledge that is transferable to nearly every aspect of advanced manufacturing.” 

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