Business partnership aims to turn on the talent tap
Looking to increase the flow of talent in its workforce pipeline, Niagara Bottling LLC has partnered with Palm Beach State College’s Engineering Technology and Electrical Power Technology programs, providing a commitment of paid internships and $39,000 worth of training equipment to help prepare students for careers in its advanced manufacturing operations.
Eight students, along with faculty and staff, toured the company’s Jupiter facility earlier this month, which is one of 32 worldwide. As the leading bottler of private label water in the world—with clients like Costco, Walmart and Walgreens—each of Niagara’s production lines can produce 144,000 bottles of water an hour.
The equipment donation consists of three Amatrol Portable PLC Learning Systems, featuring the Siemens S7-1200 Programmable Logic Controller. In the fully automated Niagara plants, PLCs control every aspect of producing bottled water and other beverages. Access to this technology will enable students to hone their programming and operating skills in on-the-job scenarios where they will have to keep machines running safely and correctly.
After the tour, the PBSC group joined Niagara managers for a working lunch, giving the students a chance to ask questions and the managers an opportunity to get feedback.
“Students bring a fresh eye to Niagara,” said Danny Weckstein, manufacturing technology manager, who started as an intern with the company in 2013. “We look for the student perspective to help us continue to be cutting edge.”
The company’s innovative approach to partnering with schools starts with student tours and leads to paid internships that expose students to the different departments in the plant in three career tracks: maintenance, manufacturing and corporate support. Weckstein was an intern in Niagara’s Manufacturing Development Program, which grooms people for supervisory roles. The company will offer two paid internship positions for PBSC students when the Jupiter plant starts up a second production line this spring.
“The tour helped me to see more clearly what I’m working toward,” said Andrew Raimondi, who is enrolled in the Rapid Prototyping Specialist college credit certificate and plans to pursue the A.S. degree in Engineering Technology. “It’s one thing to be in school and learn the material, but to see it in practice is a whole ‘nother world. I was entranced by watching all the machines work and how everything is organized and well thought out.”
The tour also gave Deysi Camacho, another Engineering Technology student, a real-world model. “When you hear about PLC machines and the manufacturing process in the classroom, you don’t picture the whole thing in your mind, so to see it with your own eyes is amazing. Now when my professors talk about the machines and processes, my mind is going to come here.”
Jobs in advanced manufacturing environments like Niagara Bottling are a good fit for graduates of both the Engineering Technology and Electrical Power Technology programs. The Electronics concentration in the Engineering Technology program is especially applicable, and much of the Electrical Power Technology program focuses on instrumentation and controls that regulate processes.
“We really appreciate our relationship with Niagara Bottling, said Oleg Andric, department chair of the Electrical Power Technology program and a professor in both programs. “Through our relationships with industry, we learn what knowledge and skills students need to be successful. Just as Niagara rotates interns through all phases of production, we take a multidisciplinary approach so that our students are ready for the internships and career opportunities these great partners offer.”
Industry today has a great deal to offer, as David Shea, technical trainer for Niagara Bottling told the students. “If you learn this industry, it’s the beverage industry—it’s not just bottled water. It can take you anywhere you want to go in the world if you’re willing.”