Polk students tour dairy manufacturing plant

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – When you scoop ice cream, you’re probably not thinking about all it takes for it to get to your bowl. But after a day at the Publix dairy manufacturing plant, some Polk County high schoolers have a new appreciation for the sweet stuff and those who make it.

This week more than 200 area high schoolers are touring manufacturing facilities to get a better idea of what these jobs entail. It’s part of an effort to inspire upcoming talent in a field that has a lot of jobs to fill.

Students learn about dairy production

A Friday morning delivery at the Publix dairy processing plant carried 29 high school engineering students. The students were eager to learn what goes on inside the plant and what they need to know to land a job there. The Ridge Community high schoolers started by getting a glimpse into how milk gets the exact fat content that’s on the label. They then went to the process of making yogurt, ice cream and cheese.

“I didn’t know it was so hard to make cottage cheese,” student Heath Cowart said.

Besides the fascination of getting an inside scoop, the students are witnessing how it pays to know what they study in the classroom. “All the stuff they work on here, like automations, continuous flow, mass production, we learn all that,” student Brandon Baodao said.

The plant’s general manager, Gregory Rudolph, is 32 years into this and can explain how the industry has changed dramatically. “In the beginning there were a lot of manual processes, hand valves and gauges we had to monitor,” Rudolph explained.

The same job still gets done now – but in an entirely different way. The new technical aspect of manufacturing creates challenges in finding talent with the right skills for the job.

“There are some individuals that take to it and some that may struggle with it,” Rudolph explained. “Those that have the interest and background will certainly be more successful in those positions.”

One requirement that’s still around, though, is sampling ice cream every 15 minutes. It’s part of what makes it a sweet gig.

A recent study by the Manufacturing Institute reports that six out of 10 open jobs go unfilled because of talent shortage.

Manufacturing Day is an annual event of the Polk County Workforce Education System.

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