Talent Pipeline Team 

The Talent Pipeline Team was formed in cooperatively with the Central Florida Development Council. The Team is focused on aligning the community resources through innovative collaborations to fill the gap of high skill, high wage jobs in Polk County.



Finding Your Future Workforce - Education and Industry Roundtables

In October of 2018, the Team hosted “Finding Your Future Workforce” a series of six roundtable discussions convened across the county.  The goal was to hear directly from business leaders what they were experiencing with the Polk County labor market.   During facilitated discussions, 133 cross-sector industry representatives were asked to identify and rank the jobs and skills needed in their workplace and to identify skills gaps in the available talent pool.  While each employer reported varying degrees of difficulty in finding technically proficient applicants, 100% of those attending ranked soft skills as the number one most needed and the number one ranked skills deficit among applicants and the recently hired. These local findings were confirmed through data reported by Career Source Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity.  (Skills Gap and Job Vacancy Survey, Statewide 2018)


With soft skills emerging from the roundtables as the number one skills gap, the Team began researching for an effective learning tool to address this need.  The Team chose the State of Florida funded platform Florida Ready to Work which offers free of fee staff support, training modules, instructors guide, on-line systems and evaluation methods.  Students can earn Soft Skills e-Badges and a Soft Skills Credential following coursework completion and a proctored exam.

Over the late spring and throughout the summer of 2019, five Polk Vision partners began using the platform to pilot Florida Ready to Work with their students.  Feedback from the students and course facilitators will be used to chart the next steps in the creation of a local program.

With the goal of graduating the first class of Polk Certified Ready to Work students in Spring of 2020, the Talent Pipeline Team is hoping Florida Ready to Work will serve as a key component of a larger course of study which will include experiential training and a capstone project.



“The diverse feedback regarding technical and soft skills, credentials, and employment trends has been invaluable and impactful. We are using this data to direct our efforts toward enhancing the employability skills of our local talent pools, such as our piloting of the Florida Ready to Work platform. Additionally, we share this data with our secondary and post-secondary education partners to further help students strategically plan for meaningful careers.” 

– Orathai Northern, Ph.D., District Dean of Workforce Education & Economic Development, Polk State College

Countywide College & Career Fair

A subcommittee of the Polk Vision Talent Pipeline Team has been working to facilitate three collaborative projects to further bridge learning-to-earning and positively impact economic development:

  • A Countywide Career Fair.
  • A toolkit for businesses with common descriptions regarding internships and other work experiences to help industry navigate the complexities of higher education career experience placement.
  • Adoption and promotion of a common software platform to connect students and business.

In September 2018 the sub-committee hosted a first of its kind Countywide College and Career Fair with 40 businesses participating and over 200 students attending.  Plans are underway for the second annual event scheduled for September 27, 2019 and once again hosted by Polk State College Lakeland Campus.

Polk County Internship Tool Kit

The sub-committee is also finalizing a Polk County Guide to Internships that will define and align the terms and protocols of work experiences for both interns and employers. Scheduled for publication in Fall 2019, the guide is intended to streamline the process for businesses, students and educational institutions through the use of common descriptions regarding internships and other work experiences.

Finding Talent Through A Common Use Platform

The leading early talent network which unites post-secondary students and employers is now more widely available in Polk County due to the support of the Central Florida Development Council.

Recognizing that employers are interested in connecting with students in an effective and efficient manner, the CFDC implemented a grant opportunity for those institutions transitioning to the use of a common career center software called Handshake.

Handshake is a technology platform focused on connecting students with work experiences, including internships. The platform enables easy access for employers to tap into a pool of candidates attending any post-secondary institution joined in the Handshake network.  


  • Florida Southern College
  • Florida Polytechnic University
  • Polk State College
  • St. Leo University
  • Southeastern University
  • Webber International University

To learn more visit:  https://joinhandshake.com/

Aligning Career Academy Pathways from Middle to High School

Aligning Career Academy Pathways from Middle to High School was developed to provide counselors with local workforce information and better prepare them to assist students with early career planning.   More than 40 middle school counselors and assistant principals connected with representatives from 13 area businesses in roundtable discussions during this day-long session.  

Business leaders provided an overview of their particular industry and the types of jobs available at their workplace.  Conversations included the essential skills for an entry-level employee, earning potential, and industry outlook in the following sectors: 

  • Agricultural science and construction
  • Public service and medical
  • Manufacturing, supply chain, and transportation logistics
  • Business hospitality and entrepreneurship
  • Technology and engineering


The Talent Pipeline Team and its work as the Local College Access Network is funded by:

Higher Education Coordinating Council for the Attainment Innovation Partnership Award

College Access and Success Initiative, a program of the Florida Philanthropic Network, made possible through funding from the Helios Education Foundation and the Kresge Foundation and administered through the CASI Challenge Fund within the GiveWell Community Foundation

Helios-Florida College Access LCAN seed grant

Wells Fargo Foundation

City of Lakeland Florida Community Services Grant Funds


Be The Future Be UTM is two things: it is a collection of resources and it is a community of engaged students focused on preparing for their future.

The Be The Future Be U™ web site has been created to support students in achieving their job and career goals while providing parents with helpful information and resources. Developed for use by middle school and high school age students, the site contains age appropriate information on topics ranging from advanced high school course selections to early college admission options. It’s all about planning and Polk Vision has launched this on-line tool to help students and their parents connect to local, state and national resources.

In Spring 2018, Polk Vision reached out to students at Lake Region High School iMAG Academy requesting the design of a brochure to promote career planning for students.  Be The Future B UTM was born from their creative collaboration and has evolved beyond a simple brochure to the development of a web site designed to support an on-line community and an interactive information trading post.  

Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, content for the web site was vetted and contributed to locally by Polk County Public Schools Counseling Services Department and through focus groups and training sessions held with students, school counselors and teachers.  These various groups helped identify ways to bridge the many disconnects between students and the career planning process.

Students and parents from across the county are encouraged to send in valuable tips as well as gain access to on-line resources.  School counselors view the web site as a tool that can be used to reinforce critical information in a fun and interactive way. With input from staff members representing over 40 schools, it has been made clear this initiative is not only wanted but needed for today’s students. After conducting in depth focus groups and information sharing sessions with students from ages 13-18, the engagement and excitement for scholarships, academic advice, and inspirational guidance tailored specifically for students like them was made clear. Each student deserves an opportunity to put their best foot forward on the path to success.

What Students Are Saying!


I like that the website gives valuable resources to students so they can have what they need to go to the next level, and as a senior, I appreciate it.

-12 Grade Student / Alpha Phi Alpha, Men of Tomorrow Institute


I like how it shows you what you need to do and how you can do it. It shows you that you need to work harder. 

 - 6th Grade Student / Union Academy


5% increase in High School Graduation Rate

Polk 80.4% for 2017-18                 

State 86.1% for 2017-18

(Florida Department of Education -Florida’s High School Cohort 2017-18 Graduation Rate, March 2018)


1.1% *increase since 2013 of Polk County residents with a high-quality degree or credential

Polk 28.2% in 2013 to 29.3% in 2017      

State 38.6% in 2013 to 48.3% in 2017

* Includes post-secondary certificate, after 2014, and associate’s degree or higher for residents aged 25-64; U S Census. 

(Data published by Florida College Access Network-February 2019)


Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will go on to college.  National data reports that seniors who complete the FAFSA are 63 % more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.

(2017-National College Access Network analysis of Education Longitudinal Study 2002)


59% of Florida high school seniors who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) qualify for a Pell Grant, one of the largest forms of federal aid available to low-income students. However, Florida ranks 34th in the nation for FAFSA completion.


42.6% of Polk County’s 7,220 12th graders completed a FAFSA for school year 2018- 2019

 -2.6% decrease from 2017-2018 school year.

The decrease is reflected both at a State change -1.5% and National change of -0.3%.


Talent Pipeline Team

Orathai Northern - Chair, Polk State College

Cheryl Arrington, Polk County Public Schools 

Wendy Bolin, Saddle Creek Logistics Services

Naomi Boyer, NOME LLC

Amy Bratten, Southeastern University

Sarah Breed, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce

Monique Byrd, Polk County Public Schools 

Stacy Campbell-Domineck, Career Source Polk

Hal Coffman, Madrid Engineering Group

Carly Evans, Keiser University

Kyle Fedler, Florida Southern College

Kaci Gingras, Mckeel Academy

Jacquie Hobgood, Haines City Economic Development Council

Nicole Irby, BB&T Bank

Jesse Jackson, Lake Wales Charter District

Susan LeFrancois, Florida Polytechnic University               

Larry Madrid, Madrid Engineering Group

Sean Malott, Central Florida Development Council

Nelson  Marquez, Webber International University

Lori Martini, GiveWell Community Foundation

Cindy McCalla, City of Lakeland

Phil Minden, Bartow Regional Medical Center

Devyn Montalvo, Webber International University

Laquieria Nottage, Polk County Public Schools 

Booke Paquette, Saint Leo University

Trish Pfeiffer, City of Bartow

Sara Beth Reynolds, Polk County School Board

Jim Sidou, Saddle Creek Logistics Services

Chad Tagtow, Citizens Bank and Trust

Paizley Whidden, Warner University

Alena White, Saint Leo University

Leigh Ann Wynn, Warner University

Lindsay Zimmerman, Central Florida Development Council