A Gift of Mechanical Education

by Annika Freiburger

By Lee Bloomquist for Mesabi Tribune

***This article first appeared in the Mesabi Tribune on December 9th, 2022

These gifts are way too big to be wrapped and decorated with a bow.

Two Iron Range heavy equipment companies are making huge gifts to students at Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus.Ziegler CAT in Buhl and Road Machinery & Supplies Co. (RMS) in Virginia, along with Cummins, Inc., donated more than $318,000 in equipment to the college to help students learn the diesel mechanics trade.

“We’ve had an engine donated here and there over the 19 years I’ve been here, but this is kind of unique,” John Bright, Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus diesel and mechanics and heavy equipment instructor said. “These are pretty significant donations.”

The partnership between the heavy equipment companies and Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus is helping fill a pressing need for diesel mechanics on the Iron Range and beyond.

Diesel mechanics are in high demand in northeastern Minnesota mining and construction industries.

“Demand is high,” Bright said. “If you check the Minnesota Works website, there’s probably 150 to 200 jobs open in the state right now.

Ziegler CAT donated four used diesel engines, a haul truck torque converter and a hydraulic control valve to the college.

Together, the equipment is valued at $152,680.

Cummins, Inc., through RMS, donated a mammoth 27,000-pound, 16-cylinder diesel engine valued at $166,000.

RMS donated a stand for the Cummins engine.

“This is the engine that the mines on the Iron Range run in the haul trucks,” Bright said. “It’s going to give our students the ability to know how to handle all the pieces.”

Jessalyn Sabin, Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus academic dean, career and technical programs, said the donations are critical gifts to diesel mechanics students, the program and college.

“It benefits our program because students have the opportunity to work on some large pieces of equipment that are not otherwise easy to source,” Sabin said. “We’re lucky in that we have some very good program advisory members and businesses.”

The value of the equipment donations far exceeds the program’s annual budget, Sabin said.

“It’s absolutely critical,” Sabin said of the donation. “We’re very grateful for the support we receive from local businesses. They’re so generous and we want to acknowledge their support.”

“This is like 22 years of our annual operating budget,” Bright said. “These businesses have been very good to us.”

Northeastern Minnesota’s six taconite plants, along with construction and other heavy equipment companies, are key employers for Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus diesel graduates, Bright said.

“Most of them are staying local,” Bright said. “A lot of them like to stay in their comfort area.”

Matt Witzel, Ziegler CAT branch operations manger in Buhl, said Ziegler CAT as a company has a history of supporting students.

“We’ve been doing it as a company for quite a while,” Witzel said. “I think it gives us an avenue for students to work for Ziegler CAT and be future employees here. We hire about four students out of there ( Hibbing) every year.”

Ziegler CAT also offers scholarships to Minnesota North College—Hibbing Campus diesel mechanics students and provides matching funds to colleges for equipment purchases, Witzel said

“I think if you have a diesel degree, you can work anywhere you want,” Witzel said. “I think we have over 100 openings in Minnesota and Iowa.”

Demand for diesel engine specialists along with bus and truck mechanics is high in northeastern Minnesota and across the state, according to Carson Gorecki, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Northeast Regional Analyst.

Statewide median wages for a diesel engine specialist and bus and truck mechanics are $35.96 in construction, $31.21 in mining and $29.70 in manufacturing, according to DEED.

Bright said the equipment donations give students a taste of what it’s like working on equipment for mining vendors or at the mines.

“This is going to give students a step up to see what the stuff is in the mines,” Bright said.