Wells Academy: A Minnesota story of technology, training and transformation

Bemidji business offers a ‘second chance’ with high-tech manufacturing instruction and life skills

For Andy Wells, it’s about more than giving people a job—it’s giving them a chance.

Wells, from Minnesota’s Red Lake Reservation, has spent more than three decades building a successful manufacturing and precision machining company, Wells Technology, just north of Bemidji. Along the way, as his employees work with various kinds of metal, he’s learned to apply the golden rule.

While felonies or addiction problems may make a job seeker unemployable in the eyes of some, Wells says a 2004 job interview made him pause and reconsider.

“This man had been looking for work for six months. I noticed (after the interview) in his car he had his wife and two kids, and I wondered how I would feel, if I was trying to recover from a problem, and no one would give me a second chance,” Wells recently told the Bemidji Pioneer.

“Sometimes, your heart gives you a stronger message . . . so I went back to him and said, ‘Come in Monday. I’d like to interview you again.’ ”

Not long after that, Wells launched Wells Academy—a facility that trains employees in manufacturing and life skills, giving opportunities to otherwise non-qualified employees due to a lack of experience or training.

Native American students train for a year in computerized manufacturing or entry-level mechatronics, using state-of-the-art equipment at Wells Technology’s 55,000-square-foot facility. And as intensive as these 2,000-hour certifications are, life skills are also an important part of their education.

“We teach leadership. We teach communication skills. We’ll bring in Tribal leaders to talk about culture, and what it’s like to be a strong member of the Native American community,” says Tim Knudsen, vice president of marketing at Wells Technology.

Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right
Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right

“The students grow more confident, more self-assured. The transformation literally happens before your eyes,” adds Knudsen. “We’ve had a student come out of prison, go through our program, and move on to earn an engineering degree.”

Enbridge is committed to improving quality of life in the communities near our operations. Our Line 3 Replacement Project, across northern Minnesota, is built on healthy Indigenous engagement, with training, contracting, capacity building and community sustainability.

Last year, we partnered with Wells Technology and other Native American-owned businesses to install a 13-kilowatt (kW) solar energy system at our Bemidji area office.

We’re also encouraging Tribal economic participation on Line 3 replacement work, targeting $100 million in spending on project-related training, contracting and hiring from Tribes, the vast majority of it in Minnesota.

As part of that commitment, we recently funded a pair of $16,000 scholarships for Native American students at Wells Academy working toward CNC (computerized) Manufacturing certification.

A Wells Academy education isn’t confined to a machine shop. Students are brought to procurement meetings with industrial supplier Fastenal, a business partner of Wells Technology, as well as trade shows like the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago and the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) in Las Vegas.

“A lot of our Native American students that come to us off the reservation are somewhat regionalized,” says Knudsen. “Our goal is to show them that there’s a big world out there—that they can go out and do whatever they want.”

(TOP PHOTO: A Wells Technology employee flips the switch on a solar energy system installed in 2018 at Enbridge's Bemidji, Minnesota office. Enbridge partnered with Wells Technology and other Native American-owned businesses on the project.)