Travis Hetten grew up 20 minutes south of the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. His earliest memories are of big machines.
“I was fascinated by big farm machinery, big trucks, and big road equipment,” he said.
Then he learned he could turn that fascination into an occupation, so Travis earned his degree as a diesel technician.
Travis is the equipment manager for the northern Minnesota division of Knife River, a Top 10 U.S. aggregate producer and leading construction material and contracting company. He is responsible for the maintenance, repairs, buying and selling of big equipment. Really. Big. Equipment. We are talking about loaders, dozers, graders, backhoes, dump trucks, and crushers.
While he occasionally gets to help repair Knife River equipment, these days most of his technician duties take place at his home where he tinkers with cars and four wheelers. His love for working on big stuff is unwavering and he wants prospective students, high school career counselors and other influencers in the K-12 system to know why.
“It has been promoted for so long that the only way you could make a living is with a four-year degree,” Travis explained. “For many kids getting out of high school, the last thing they want is four more years of school.”
Travis said it is important for people to understand that four-year colleges are not the only option. “I am a big believer in two-year colleges. Students can find more job opportunities and earn a good living with two-year programs.”
That is why Travis has been committed to working with SCTCC’s Medium/Heavy Truck Technician (MHT) program, “to show and support the program and that they offer a good education, it is worthwhile, and it is a good career.”
From 2007 to 2016 when he worked for Knife River out of St. Cloud, Travis served on SCTCC’ s MHT program advisory board. He lined up equipment for students to work on in the lab, filled in as a substitute teacher and facilitated donations of engines, transmissions, hydraulics and other items for the lab. For the past eight years, he has also served as a judge for the state SKILLS-USA competition. Plus he has been an advisory board member at several other colleges throughout Minnesota.
“He has given so much time,” said Matthew Hoepner, SCTCC MHT instructor. “Travis is truly selfless. He recognizes the importance and value of supporting this industry by ensuring we have the most highly skilled diesel technicians. And, he is committed to students all across Minnesota.”
Travis believes you get out of the partnership what you put into it. If students, parents, community members, and educators are exposed to the different career paths available, they will understand them more and embrace them.
“We need to help get people into the fields that they are interested in,” Travis said. “I have seen people with low marks in high school who excel in the trades because they are passionate about what they are studying and can apply it immediately. That is why I love this program.”