Philadelphia Trains Them Young

Certified vending technicians are hard to come by, but not in Philadelphia, Pa., where one of the only training programs is still going strong after 19 years. And it’s the only one students can attend in high school.

“Not everyone is cut out for college,” said vending operator and advisory board member for 15 years, Bud

Burke, vice-president/general manager, Mackenzie Coffee & Vending Services, LLC, Allentown, Pa. “The career and technical education program (at Edison Fareira high school) means they (students) can come out of school with a high school diploma and still be able to make a living without working at McDonald’s.”

Burke also believes the fact that 79 percent of the students are Latino is positive for an industry which could use some more diversity.

An industry supported advisory board is a program requirement to keep the curriculum up to date. However, the Edison Fareira advisory board allows students to meet real operators and get a foot in the industry’s door.

Anthony (Tony) Ortiz, industry support manager for bottling, MEI, and a graduate of the Edison Fareira high school program, got his first job due to attending the advisory committee as a student. “As a result of that meeting — several individuals got to know me during the program,” said Ortiz. When he graduated, he was offered a job at a local distributor. After 18 years in the industry, Ortiz is a member of the advisory board and active in the school.

“I go to speak to the classes. I do training on our units, but also I try to be a mentor for students,” said Ortiz.

Being a product of the same environment the students are dealing with daily, Ortiz really gets the students to respond when they see what the vending industry can offer them.

Attending night school, Ortiz feels very fortunate for his career in vending. “I worked my way through the industry by being a sponge — learning and absorbing what the industry had to offer — in a positive way,” said Ortiz,

“It’s all been as a result of the Edison program.”

PROGRAM SECOND TO NONE

School administrators see the involvement of former students and continued industry support, through donated equipment and time, as an indicator of the program’s value. David Lugo, assistant principal of Edison Fareira, said the vending maintenance career and technical program is one of his prides. “It’s my second year as principal,” said Lugo, “and many graduates who go out come back to be representatives on the advisory committee.”

Lugo added that Jim Clark, the Edison Fariera vending technician program’s instructor, really deserves acknowledgements. “He’s made this program second to none,” said Lugo.

AN UNLIKELY INSTRUCTOR

Clark started out as a route man and worked in the industry until a friend pointed out the ad for the Edison Fariera position in the newspaper. “The last thing I thought I’d be was a high school teacher,” said Clark. That was in 1989.

Clark knows the vending industry needs technicians, which makes the program a win-win situation. Students have skills and experience right out of high school and vending operators get technicians with a NAMA level 1 certification.

“They (students) graduate the program with entry level skills – they can earn money from day one as a shop mechanic,” said Clark. “Probably within a year, they can go from shop to a street mechanic.” In the traditional method of on-the-job training, it takes an average of two years of working in the shop before a technician can go out on his or her own.

“We’re approaching 50 graduates still out working in the industry,” said Clark. Some former students started in vending, but moved into gaming, employing the same technical skills.

According to Clark, a foundation to the vending technician training is the summer work program. For six weeks in the summer students of the program work in the industry. “I line up local vending operators/distributors to take one or two students for the summer,” said Clark. For the summer of 2008, he had eight different students working at seven vending operations. The work is paid, subsidized by government organizations.

“This real world experience is something I can’t simulate in a shop,” said Clark.

Clark himself works in the industry during the summers as well. Sometimes he even works for his former students.

A 1999 program graduate, Ron Forde, manager at Advanced Services, Bensalem Pa., knows it takes a lot of time to train someone with no experience. “The program really helps with that,” Forde said. He remembers touring the high school technical shops as a freshman, and when they reached the vending shop and opened a machine, Forde was hooked. “I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since,” he said. He praised Jim Clark for being a positive mentor and really creating a program with excellent job placement.

GRADUATES PASS ALONG JOBS

Bernard Clark (no relation to the instructor Jim Clark), dispatch manager, Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Philadelphia, Pa., graduated in 1998. “I think it’s the best trade program at the high school now and most successful,” he said. He knows graduates from other school programs unable to find jobs in their industries.

Bernard Clark got a job at Coca-Cola immediately after graduating. He’s been working his way up the company for 10 years now, and has even started attending college courses. “More than likely I’ll stay in vending,” he said. “I’m enrolled at college now, getting a bachelor’s degree in business. Who knows what the future will bring.”

Because he knows the unbeatable training provided to students of the program, Bernard Clark has gone to Jim Clark when he needs staff. “There are seven past grads working at Coca-Cola right now,” he said. “The way Jim Clark designed it, it is a great program.”

SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPPORT

“The Edison Fareira vending machine repair program is the only one of its kind in the country,” said Brenda Taylor, deputy superintendent of specialized instructional services for the school district of Philadelphia.” It’s a very positive program for the area, because the students are coming out ready for the work force, with accreditation. Taylor’s even had the opportunity to experience the program first hand, as she was once assistant principal at Edison Fareira High School.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia boasts the last program like this. There used to be more schools, but since the 1970s, their numbers have dwindled. Jim Clark’s biggest regret is that these programs are disappearing. “If the (vending technician) program works in this area, and it does,” said Clark, “why isn’t there one in Chicago or L.A. or anywhere the industry needs people?”

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