PdC HS students take Heavy Metal Tour of local businesses

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PdC High School students took part in a tour of area manufacturing businesses on Nov. 14. (Submitted photo)

By Steve Van Kooten


Jason Fiedler, the Electromechanical Trainer for Southwest Technical College, stood over a Programmable Login Controller (PLC) outside the High School’s Prairie du Chien Area Arts Center. He flipped a few switches and turned a few knobs until a dial sprung to life and a gentle whirring sound started.

Fiedler’s contraption was part of a student experience called the Heavy Metal Tour, which took place on Nov. 14. Forty students took part in the tour, visiting several manufacturing businesses located in the Prairie area, including Astec, Truvant, 3M and Universal Forest Products. Southwest Tech’s representatives finished off the day with a presentation and a chance for students to work with the PLC. 

“It’s the brain of the machine,” Fiedler said. “That’s what it’s coming down to: you may be the machine operator, but if it’s not working, then why? So, you may have to do some of the trouble-shooting yourself.” The industry has changed: press operators, machinists and other “factory jobs” have  a new set of skills needed to do the job effectively.

“This is more of an educational experience than a field trip,” Robert Moses, President of the Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “The goal is to get the kids into the manufacturing businesses to show them what great opportunities there are and also let them know it’s not the dirty, greasy job people use to think it was. It’s more about robotics.”

Moses noted the chamber started the Heavy Metal Tour around seven years ago; however, this was the first year the tour involved sophomore and junior students from the high school. In previous years the tour was offered to middle school students. The change was made to connect students to possible career paths and resources to start making life decisions.

“We wanted to focus on those grades because we wanted to get the most out of the experience to see what’s out there,” Mike Bennett, Prairie du Chien High School’s Assistant Principal, said. In essence, the students could find a real, relevant direction for themselves post-high school.

Bennett stated the trades need workers and there were a wide variety of jobs in the industry. A job in manufacturing didn’t mean standing on a concrete floor coated in grease anymore; there were jobs as technicians, finance workers and technology specialists needed to pump blood through these companies’ hearts. The days of no training, no experience factory opportunities were becoming a rare breed.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of students who did that and now they’re coming back for these programs,” Kay Woodke, Recruiter for Southwest Tech, said. The Fennimore-based school is one of many in the state of Wisconsin that has specialized in trade jobs such as manufacturing and expanded programs to include robotics and electronic-based career paths. “It’s essential they learn these skills to move to the next level.”

Fiedler agreed with that statement: “I believe the manufacturing industry has changed; an operator has to have knowledge of how their machine works. It’s not just a body that stands around. It’s no longer walking off the street and pushing a button.”

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