St. Francis High School students learn real-world skills while fabricating snowplow components for MnDOT
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When the Minnesota Department of Transportation needed parts to build snowplows in fall 2018, one of the vendors the agency turned to was a group of high school industrial technology students.
The 18 St. Francis High School students and their instructor, Erik Trost, supply MnDOT’s Central Shop mechanics, who build snowplows year-round, with components to fabricate snowplows. From bolts and pins to poles and pulleys, the students work one hour a day five days a week to fill the orders. The class is a real business called Saints Manufacturing, named after the school’s athletic teams.
“The students are doing very well,” said Brian McDonald, MnDOT transportation materials supervisor. “We’re saving money and that’s a benefit to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the students are learning and developing skills that may well be their careers in the future.”
The partnership began after MinnCor Industries, which fabricated parts for MnDOT for years, closed its metals shop. Trost reached out to MnDOT offering to fabricate the parts that MinnCor didn’t complete.
The St. Francis shop includes many of the pieces of equipment found in any modern machining and fabrication shop. The equipment includes lathes, mills, CNC mill, plasma cutters and tig and mig welders. Much of the equipment was donated or purchased with cash donations from local industry.
The work for MnDOT started out slow, but the partnership between Saints Manufacturing and MnDOT and the business model worked so well that MnDOT now shares its CAD drawings with students so they can order the parts and quote prices, much like MnDOT does with any vendor.
“Erik is very meticulous and he wants the students to learn every aspect of the business,” McDonald said. “His focus is on teaching real-world skills so his students are prepared for a career or further technical training.”
Some of the larger components needed for the trucks still go to other vendors, but the shop will be remodeled this summer and that will double the available square footage. The expansion could allow Saints Manufacturing to do more MnDOT work in the future.
“Without the help of industry, Saints Manufacturing couldn’t exist,” Trost said. “The community, the industry and the school board supports the program. MnDOT has made huge impact on this program. They’ve stretched the students’ capabilities. It’s forced our hand to branch out to work with different pieces of equipment and business processes. We’re sending parts out the door that are the same as from any fabrication shop.”