Adrian Soto surveys a sea of soda pop. Four conveyer lines constantly churn, spin and rotate cans and bottles as they are filled and capped.
Soto, 18, of Mustang, helps to keep the product moving before it is packaged and delivered. He was hired two months ago as a line mechanic at Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Up to now he has mostly shadowed experienced mechanics at the Oklahoma City plant. He was recently informed of a pay raise and more responsibilities.
He said the job is a perfect complement to education. He enrolled in August in a brand-new program at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno Campus. Industrial Automation and Robotics Technology (IART) was created to prepare people to work in manufacturing and automation industries, such as Coca-Cola.
Moving parts require both preventive and corrective maintenance.
Soto is a student by morning and a part-time employee at Coca-Cola each weekday afternoon. Class curriculum aligns closely with mechanical systems integration and maintenance experienced on the job. IART students also interact with electrical controls, robotic automation and controls, fluid power including hydraulics and pneumatics and programmable logic control (PLCs).
One other thing Soto has learned in the IART program: “It’s not art,” he said. “What we learn is hydraulics, pneumatics, conveyers, motors and stripping wires. I have done electrical work, too.”
Recently, he replaced a motor that broke while working at Coca-Cola. He knew what to do because he learned it at CV Tech. This led him to a conclusion.
“What I learn here (at CV Tech), I use at work,” he said. “And what I learn there (at Coca-Cola), I use at Canadian Valley.”
Soto said plant leadership was eager to hire him based on his enrollment in the IART program.
Starting pay for the required skillset is considerably higher than average for full-time employees, said Olin Bundy, IART instructor at CV Tech, who points to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median pay (half earn more, half less) for line mechanics is nearly $29 per hour. Employee demand is among the highest for companies in surrounding areas, Bundy said.
Two other IART students recently were advised of job shadowing opportunities at Niagara Bottling Co., near Yukon. The 407,000 square-foot plant is manufactures bottled water and soft drinks for companies, such as Costco and Walmart.
Soto said his interests have zeroed in on robotics and PLCs, which are computers that control manufacturing processes like assembly lines.
He said he’s thrilled to have learned so much already, but he admits there is more to learn before he is ready for full-time work. Soto attends CV Tech as a part-time adult with no-cost tuition using the Next Step Scholarship. It is available to anyone under age 24 who lives within the district and who has a high school diploma or equivalent. Books and fees are extra.
“I came in not really knowing what electricity is,” Soto said. “But I have learned most everything seems more complicated than it really is.”