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RDO Partners with Industry Leaders and Educators to Host Statewide Diesel Technology Contest

RDO Partners with Industry Leaders and Educators to Host Statewide Diesel Technology Contest

5 Jun 2024 Author: RDO Equipment Co. Read time: 4 min

What do you get when more than 65 volunteers from Minnesota’s agriculture, construction and trucking industries partner to mentor students interested in a skilled trades career? One of the largest skills-based contests for students facilitated by experienced heavy equipment experts and technicians.

“I wanted to help support this event to build excitement and awareness around the heavy equipment industry, "said Burnsville’s RDO Equipment Co. Service Operations Manager Ben Weber. “The SkillsUSA Minnesota Diesel Technology Contest energizes students and allows us to reward the best of the best with prizes."

On a Saturday this spring, more than 50 high school and college students — including three current RDO Access Your Future (AYF) service interns — competed in 13 stations. Each contest station was developed by working technicians and equipment professionals based on real-world challenges these students will likely face in future careers. Stations covered the following topics:

  • air conditioning
  • compressed air systems
  • diagnostics
  • electrical
  • failure analysis
  • frequently used math equations
  • general shop skills
  • hydraulics
  • precision measurement
  • finding and sharing service info
  • mock job interviews and a bonus emerging technology station.

“As a student, I competed in the SkillsUSA contest myself, and it was a formative experience,” said Travis Hetteen, chairman of the SkillsUSA Minnesota chapter. "I gained expertise and connected with professionals to understand if a heavy equipment career was right for me.”

Hetteen works as an Equipment Manager at Knife River, a construction company based in Bemidji, Minnesota and has volunteered with SkillsUSA for over 16 years. He emphasizes that industry partners, like RDO team members, log more than 1,300 volunteer hours to host the annual SkillsUSA contest. This yearly contest is an opportunity for students to build both resumes and confidence, and the competition element is no afterthought — first place winners of the competitions travel to the national contest in Atlanta, Georgia. 

“SkillsUSA’s mission directly aligns with RDO as they are an organization that highlights the trades and skilled career pathways available to students,” said RDO’s Recruiting Program Manager Andy Luikens. “The students who participate in SkillsUSA gain experience outside of the classroom and training that will create future leaders in our industry." Luiken said these students’ talents, supported by industry professionals, create a blueprint for future job success.

Passion Powers Continued Partnerships  

SkillsUSA is a national organization that serves trade, industrial, technical and health occupations students in public high schools, career and technical schools, and two-year colleges. More than 320,000 students belong to the national organization, with chapters at more than 3,600 schools in 50 states and four U.S. territorial associations. In Minnesota, 40 college and high school chapters send students to the annual contest.

More than five years ago, Weber and a few other team members volunteered their time at SkillsUSA Minnesota chapter. Jared Mittleider, service operations manager in Dayton, said RDO team members have collectively decided to increase their support in 2024.

“We decided to talk to our larger customers to let them know we were interested in hosting the event this year and to make sure they were comfortable with us closing the service shop for the Saturday competition,” he said. “They agreed, so Dayton team members worked with our other (RDO) locations to prepare the facility, including all the equipment and technology for each student at every station.”

Derek Marlow, a service technician at RDO in Dayton, ran the diagnostic station and tested each student contestant's ability to use a multimeter and John Deere’s Customer Service ADVISOR™ to diagnose why a 320 P-Tier backhoe wouldn’t start. Along with Marlow, more than 20 RDO team members volunteered their time to staff stations or acted as lead coordinators like Mittleider and Weber.

“This contest illustrates our (RDO) community support and partnerships with local colleges,” Mittleider said. “It’s important for us to allow students to test their skills before they start their jobs in real life.”

Danny Rodgers, a Dakota County Technical College student and AYF service Intern at the Burnsville RDO location, volunteered to judge high school students competing in the running engines station. Rodgers said industry contests and RDO’s support make it possible to gain real-life skills in areas of interest.

“I can figure out if I want to work in the repair, hydraulic, machine or track shop before actually starting my career after I earn my degree,” Rodgers said.

Now in his second year as a technician, Marlow echoed this sentiment.

“At a company like RDO, there’s so much potential to grow your career into something fulfilling and rewarding,” he said.

As Marlow connects with students like Rodgers, he encourages their passion and says: “Take your time to learn, and your dedication will pay off in the long run.”

RDO Equipment Co.

Founded in 1968, RDO Equipment Co. sells and supports intelligently connected agriculture, construction, environmental, irrigation, positioning, and surveying equipment from leading manufacturers, including John Deere, Vermeer, and Topcon. With more than 80 locations across the U.S. and partnerships in Africa, Australia, Mexico and Ukraine, we deliver creative solutions so our customers can grow and build the world.  

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