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Nature of the Work
Coin-operated vending machines are a familiar sight. These machines dispense many types of refreshments, from cold soft drinks to hot meals. Vending machine servicers and repairers install, service, and stock these machines and keep them in good working order.
Vending machine servicers, often called "route drivers," visit coin-operated machines that dispense soft drinks, candy and snacks, and other items. They collect money from the machines, restock merchandise, and change labels to indicate new selections. They also keep the machines clean. Because many vending machines dispense food, these workers comply with State and local public health and sanitation standards.
Repairers, often called "mechanics" or "technicians," make sure machines operate correctly. When checking complicated electrical and electronic machines, such as beverage dispensers, they make sure that the machines mix drinks properly and that refrigeration and heating units work correctly. On the relatively simple gravity-operated machines, servicers check handles, springs, plungers, and merchandise chutes. They also test coin and change-making mechanisms. When installing the machines, they make the necessary water and electrical connections and recheck the machines for proper operation. They also make sure installation complies with local plumbing and electrical codes.
Preventive maintenanceavoiding trouble before it startsis a major job of repairers. For example, they periodically clean refrigeration condensers, lubricate mechanical parts, and adjust machines to perform properly.
If a machine breaks down, vending machine repairers inspect it for obvious problems, such as loose electrical wires, malfunctions of the coin mechanism, and leaks. If the problem cannot be readily located, they refer to technical manuals and wiring diagrams and use testing devices such as electrical circuit testers to find defective parts. Repairers decide the malfunction can be fixed on-site or if it must be replaced and sent back to the repair shop. When servicing electronic machines, repairers test them with hand held diagnostic computers that determine the extent and location of any problems. Repairers may only have to replace a circuit board or other component to fix the problem. They also repair microwave ovens used to heat food dispensed from machines.
In the repair shop, they use power tools, such as grinding wheels, saws, and drills as well as voltmeters, ohmmeters, oscilloscopes, and other testing equipment. They also use ordinary repair tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches.
Vending machine servicers and repairers employed by small companies may both fill and fix machines on a regular basis. These combination servicers-repairers stock machines, collect money, fill coin and currency changers, and repair machines when necessary.
Servicers and repairers also do some clerical work, such as filing reports, preparing repair cost estimates, ordering parts, and keeping daily records of merchandise distributed. However, new machines with computerized inventory controls reduce the paperwork a servicer must complete.
Some vending machine repairers work primarily in company repair shops, but many spend much of their time on the road visiting machines wherever they have been placed. Vending machines operate around the clock, so repairers often work at night and on weekends and holidays.
Vending machine repair shops generally are quiet, well lighted, and have adequate work space. However, when servicing machines on location, the work may be done where pedestrian traffic is heavy, such as in busy supermarkets, industrial complexes, offices, or schools. Repair work is relatively safe, although servicers and repairers must take care to avoid hazards such as electrical shocks and cuts from sharp tools and metal objects. They also must follow safe work procedures, especially when moving heavy vending machines or working with electricity and radiation from microwave ovens.
Vending machine servicers and repairers held about 21,000 jobs in 1996. Most repairers work for vending companies that sell food and other items through machines. Others work for soft drink bottling companies that have their own coin-operated machines. Some work for companies that also own video games, pin-ball machines, juke boxes, and similar types of amusement equipment. Although vending machine servicers and repairers are employed throughout the country, most are located in areas with large populations and many coin and vending machines.
Employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates. They are trained to fill and fix machines informally on the job by observing, working with, and receiving instruction from experienced repairers. High school or vocational school courses in electricity, refrigeration, and machine repair are an advantage in qualifying for entry jobs. Employers usually require applicants to demonstrate mechanical ability, either through their work experience or by scoring well on mechanical aptitude tests. Because vending machine servicers and repairers sometimes handle thousands of dollars in merchandise and cash, employers hire persons who have a record of honesty. The ability to deal tactfully with people also is important. A commercial driver's license and a good driving record are essential for most vending machine servicer and repairer jobs. Some employers require their servicers to be bonded.
Electronics have become more prevalent in vending machines, so employers increasingly prefer applicants who have some training in electronics. Technologically advanced machines with features such as multilevel pricing, inventory control, and scrolling messages extensively use electronics and microchip computers. Some vocational high schools and junior colleges offer 1- to 2-year training programs in basic electronics.
Beginners may start their training with simple jobs such as cleaning or painting machines. They then may learn to rebuild machines by removing defective parts, repairing, adjusting, and testing the machines. Next, they accompany an experienced repairer on service calls, and finally make visits on their own. This learning process takes from 6 months to 3 years, depending on the individual's abilities, previous education, types of machines, and the quality of instruction.
The National Automatic Merchandising Association has a self-study mechanics training program for vending machine repairers. Repairers use manuals for instruction in subjects such as customer relations, safety, electronics, and schematic reading. Upon completion of the program, a written test must be passed to become certified as a journey or master mechanic.
To learn about new machines, repairers and servicers sometimes attend training sessions sponsored by manufacturers, which may last from a few days to several weeks. Both trainees and experienced workers sometimes take evening courses in basic electricity, electronics, microwave ovens, refrigeration, and other related subjects. Skilled servicers and repairers may be promoted to supervisory jobs.
Employment of vending machine servicers and repairers is expected to decline through the year 2006 because improved technology will require servicers and repairers to check on machines less frequently. More vending machines are likely to be installed in industrial plants, hospitals, stores, and other business establishments to meet the public demand for vending machine items. In addition, the range of products dispensed by machine can be expected to increase as vending machines continue to become more automated and more are built with microwave ovens, mini-refrigerators, and freezers. These new machines will need to be repaired and restocked less often, and will contain computers that record sales and inventory data, reducing time-consuming paperwork now done by servicers. Some new machines will use wireless data transmitters to signal the vending machine company when they need to be restocked or repaired. This allows servicers and repairers to be dispatched only when needed, instead of their having to check each machine on a regular schedule.
Although employment is expected to decline, there will be job openings as experienced workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Persons with some background in electronics should have good job prospects because electronic circuitry is an important component of vending machines. If firms cannot find trained or experienced workers for these jobs, they are likely to train qualified route drivers or hire inexperienced people who have acquired some mechanical, electrical, or electronic training by taking high school or vocational courses.
According to a survey conducted by the National Automatic Merchandising Association, the average hourly wage rate for nonunion vending machine servicers was $8.66 in 1996. Rates ranged from just under $5.00 to nearly $17.00 an hour, depending on the size of the firm and the region of the country. Nonunion repairers averaged $10.38 an hour in 1996, but rates also ranged from about $5.00 to $17.00. Servicers and repairers who were members of unions usually earned slightly more.
Most vending machine repairers work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and receive premium pay for overtime. Some union contracts stipulate higher pay for night work and for emergency repair jobs on weekends and holidays.
Some vending machine repairers and servicers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Further information on job opportunities in this field can be obtained from local vending machine firms and local offices of the State employment service. For general information on vending machine repair, write to:
National Automatic Merchandising Association, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Suite 3500, Chicago, IL 60606-3102.
American Vending Sales, Inc.,750 Morse Ave., Elk Grove Village, IL 60007.
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