Governor DeSantis could bring new support and enthusiasm for workforce training and development, something needed in Polk County and around Central Florida.

“I have heard that he is an advocate for a strong economy, which means a strong workforce for vibrant business growth,” said Stacy Campbell-Domineck, president and CEO of CareerSource Polk, a “non-profit corporation that oversees state and federal funds dedicated to preparing and upgrading a skilled workforce.”

“My wish is that he would support innovative solutions to workforce development by offering some state funding that will yield some flexibility for local workforce boards to address business labor needs,” she said.

Dr. Orathai Northern, district dean of Workforce Education & Economic Development at Polk State College, said the college’s president, Angela Garcia Falconetti, worked with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education and workforce transition team to examine how the state’s education system can be improved.

“Dr. Falconetti stressed the critical need for continued funding and growth of academic and workforce programs at our local state colleges, which continue to fill critical workforce needs in our communities,” Northern said.

So just what is workforce training?

Northern describes it as “robust training designed to ‘upskill’ the incumbent worker or provide entry-level skills for the unemployed. Many Polk State workforce training programs and courses articulate to college credit, and classes are always running, with open-entry, early-exit options that allow students to complete certifications in a few weeks, or a few semesters.”

Campbell-Dominick said her agency does not provide training, but provides funding for businesses and those seeking training.

“For those less-skilled job-seekers or underemployed workers, we pay up to $7,500 for them to get the education/training they need,” she said. “Once they are complete with training, we also work to place them into employment. For young people (16-24) we offer internships where we place them into jobs and we pay the salary (sometimes up to $13 an hour). We have employers who partner with us to ensure that they are providing the work experience to better prepare the future workforce. Some even get hired permanently after the internship is over.”

Northern and Campbell-Domineck said people seeking training do not fit into any one category. They may be employed workers who want additional training to be ready for a promotion or take advantage of new technology. Or they might be unemployed, trying to get back into the workforce at a high-wage job.

With the unemployment rate nearly 3 percent in Polk County, finding qualified workers concerns many businesses, including employment agencies.

“Our business community is more concerned about being able to hire talent to fill open positions that have been vacant for longer than expected,” Campbell-Domineck said. “This is a direct result of low unemployment, greater competition and technological advances. Of the employers with whom I have engaged over the past year alone, they have shared that they will train, they just need the labor pool. These dire workforce concerns from businesses is not new, this is the direction the pendulum swings when we have a thriving economy and the unemployment rate falls below 4 percent.”

Designing Programs to Teach Skills

Polk State College works hard to fill workforce needs, which range from education and health to manufacturing and aviation, Northern said. Education and health services employ 32,800 people in Polk County, while manufacturing employs 18,300.

“Polk State continues to keep its finger on the pulse of Polk County’s growing needs, maintaining excellence in its programs such as Health Sciences and Education, and finding innovative ways to fill needs, providing workforce training that results in a range of certifications and degrees, from nationally recognized certificates to baccalaureate degrees,” Northern said.

The college has 28 volunteer advisory boards that help guide it as it makes decisions on training. Its Polk State Corporate College provides a location where businesses can go to get specialized training, when needed. Now, for instance, the Corporate College is working with Nucor Steel Florida on plans to provide training to people who eventually will work at the $240 million micro mill the company is building near Frostproof.

The college is also offering employees advanced training at the Mosaic EIA (Electrical, Instrumentation, and Automation) Program so they can apply for jobs in demand at the fertilizer company. But it’s not all about manufacturing.

“The college’s Supply Chain and Logistics Institute is designed to support a rapidly growing industry in Polk County, offering courses in Transportation/Logistics and Warehousing/Distribution – components of supply chain management that comprise a significant percentage of Polk County’s economy,” Northern said. The college has used $7 million it received in workforce training grants to train 5,000 people and “provided on-the-job training for 2,000 new positions for businesses across the Central Florida region.”

It’s also developed a new program — ELITE, or Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education — to provide students a path from high school through college so they can fill the ever-increasing number of vacant teaching jobs in Polk County and beyond.

Working Together to Fill Businesses’ Needs

Polk State College also works with CareerSource Polk to ensure individuals have appropriate training to fill the local workforce demand, Northern said.

CareerSource Polk provides employers with labor market information, business consultations and training so they can remain hire and retain employees.

“When employers find it difficult to find qualified talent, we focus on skill upgrades where we encourage employers to promote from within for higher level openings,” Campbell-Domineck said. “We offer Employed Worker Training Grants that support these efforts. We also offer On-the-Job training grants that cover up to 75 percent of new hire wages while they are in training status with the employer.

CareerSource Polk works with Employ Florida by managing jobs that Polk County employers list there. “This statewide tool allows us to connect and provide guidance and support to our local employers,” she said.

Polk State College also works with local staffing agencies like Rita Staffing to connect employers and talent. “The college’s relationship with Rita Staffing is an additional way in which it remains informed of local workforce needs as programs continue to be enhanced and developed,” Northern said.

Whatever the reason, training and new skills are an advantage in this economy.

“With the economy this robust, there are many training solutions available for incumbent employees as companies have funds to invest in their people,” Northern said. “With the unemployed, it can be a bit more challenging. However, there are many companies looking to have a talent pipeline that will be available for the incumbents who are getting promoted and retiring.”