Students get taste of manufacturing through Dyersville tours

DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Bob Stewart guided a group of Maquoketa Valley High School students through several work areas at Lumber Specialties in Dyersville on Thursday, shouting to be heard over the buzz and roar of saws.

“There can be thousands of the same length of wall studs in a single project,” he said, indicating the beams that would be used to support the frame of a building. “We bring the large units of lumber in and cut them to the precise length using what’s basically a huge chainsaw.”

Stewart, operations manager at Lumber Specialties, led tours of the company’s facilities as part of Manufacturing Day, hosted by Dyersville Economic Development Corp. The event brought about 30 students from Maquoketa Valley, Beckman Catholic High School and Western Dubuque High School to Dyersville, where they visited seven manufacturing companies.

Dyersville Economic Development’s workforce development coordinator, Cindy Oberbroeckling, said the annual event is held in October in conjunction with National Manufacturing Month and is designed to open students’ eyes to what manufacturing careers look like.

“This is a way to talk about their perception and how they think of manufacturing jobs,” she said. “There’s a lot of computers and technology that goes into it now, so it’s showing the students that this is a really high-tech industry.”

Stewart highlighted this fact with the Maquoketa Valley students, noting that Lumber Specialties has evolved to use computers rather than paper copies of project plans, as well as machines that eliminate the need for many difficult, time-intensive or tedious hands-on tasks.

“Tape measures are used to verify things and not necessarily to build things, and that’s the way we want it,” he said. “If you have to take out your tape measure every single time, you’re not going to get a lot built.”

After showing the students several types of saws and describing the jobs they completed, Stewart explained the steps involved in constructing a roof or floor truss.

”Trusses can be of all different shapes and sizes,” Stewart said. “This is what we call an attic truss. It might be going above a garage to get you a little extra space. Those over there would be a scissor truss.”

Holding up a metal truss connector plate, he told the students that different sizes of plates are used to connect the joints of a truss, depending on the compression and tension forces that act on that joint.

Lucas Orcutt and Jaxson Kramer, both seniors at Maquoketa Valley, said they might want to pursue a career in manufacturing.

“I wanted to find out some more about some of these businesses and maybe find one that I might be interested in,” Lucas said of his reason for participating in the day.

Both were impressed by the technology they saw at Lumber Specialties.

“The machines are amazing,” Jaxson said. “(It was interesting) to see how much machines affect production. They can get a lot done in a day.”

Stewart told the Maquoketa Valley students that Lumber Specialties builds a wide array of housing structures and also partners with chains such as Kwik Trip and Culver’s to construct new restaurants and gas stations.

“I think it’s important to show (students) what we’ve done for 20 to 30 years here, since housing is such a staple,” he said after the tour. “It’s creating that succession of the next generation of builders to take care of our housing needs.”

Amid ongoing workforce shortages, Oberbroeckling said events such as Manufacturing Day are more important than ever to show students that careers in manufacturing are available locally.

She added that after last year’s event, two Beckman students applied and were hired to work at Advanced Precast Co., which had been a stop on the tour.

“We want them to know that we have amazing manufacturers here in Dyersville,” she said. “You don’t have to leave to get a job.”