A pipeline industry coalition that includes construction unions, local contractors and the state’s leading pipeline operator are sponsoring a new program that will provide a hands-on opportunity for students across Northwest Minnesota to learn scientific principles and explore technical careers. The mobile training program, which will give some 30 school districts access to four state-of-the-art mobile laboratories equipped with tools for teaching manufacturing and welding processes. The initiative is sponsored by the Pine-to-Prairie Cooperative Center, which assists schools in the development and implementation of vocational and technical programs. The pipeline industry coalition includes LIUNA, Operating Engineers Local 49, and United Association (UA), whose members build and maintain pipelines, as well as pipeline contractors Minnesota Limited and United Piping Inc., and pipeline operator Enbridge Energy.
Pine to Prairie Cooperative Center in conjunction with Northland Community and Technical College have developed two mobile welding trailers and two manufacturing trailers that will move between 29 secondary high schools in Northwest Minnesota. Each of the trailers will be used at a high school for four weeks where students will learn the basics of welding and manufacturing processes and be introduced to careers in these high demand occupations.Each of the two welding trailers will hold five Reality Works welding simulators and one Real Weld Guide. Students in grades 7-12 will be able to practice welding techniques using one of the simulators with no danger to themselves and no materials being used. Once they are ready they can move to the Real Weld Guide and receive direct feedback on their welding techniques while using a real welder. Each of the two manufacturing trailers will hold five modular manufacturing trainers which emulates a real industrial assembly process. Each system will consist of five stations where students will learn about pneumatics, program controllers, automated systems, electricity, hydraulics and vacuum. When all five modules are placed together they will form a complete manufacturing cell. “These mobile training facilities give students a hands-on, real world experience that they can’t get anywhere else,” said Tom Leuthner, Executive Director of Pine to Prairie. “There is no greater teaching tool than this.”
The group says its goal is to recruit the next generation of skilled pipeline workers. “Pipelines are a leading source of employment in Northern Minnesota, and not just for construction workers,” according coalition spokesperson Rick Cannata, who is a member of LIUNA Local 1097 and Mayor of Hibbing, MN. “You’ve got pipeline engineers, inspectors, operators, technicians, you name it,” continues Cannata. “These are the family-supporting jobs that we need in Northern Minnesota so our young people don’t have to move to the Cities to find work.”
“We have members across Northwest Minnesota who have made a great living building and maintaining the pipelines, but some are getting close to retirement,” said Local 49 member Matt Watkins, who works out of Bagley, MN and has nearly a decade of experience in the pipeline industry. “We want young people to know that these jobs are out there, and to get a feel for the work so they can find us when they’re ready to make a good living.”
Schools included in the program include: Ada-Borup, Badger, Bagley, Clearbrook-Gonvick, Climax, Crookston, East Grand Forks, Fertile-Beltrami, Fisher, Fosston, Goodridge, Greenbush/Middle River, Grygla, Kittson Central , Lancaster, Mahnomen, Marshall County. Central, Norman County East, Norman County West, Red Lake County Central, Red Lake Falls, Roseau, Stephen/Argyle, Thief River Falls, Tri-County, Warren/Alvarado/Oslo, Warroad, Waubun, and Win-E-Mac.
“Lending a hand to the mobile lab program was an easy decision for Enbridge,” said Lorraine Little, Director of Community Engagement. “We have a major hub in Clearbrook and seven pipelines running through the Pine-to-Prairie service area. Between Enbridge and our contractors, we employ hundreds of people here in Minnesota, and we’re always looking for new talent.”