Communication, Confidence, Collaboration, and Construction: Learning the 4 Cs through a specialized apprenticeship program

Over the decades in construction, we've seen and often hear of the pride that comes with the job. Our crew members—seasoned or new—at Olympic Companies S.D. speak of this often when they talk about working in the trades. We're building things that last, things that are bigger than us—for our families and communities across the region. Our apprenticeship program has helped us shape the future of many hardworking team members over the decades, who in turn have dedicated their time and skills to building with us. For a career path that's often misunderstood, under-recognized, or dismissed, working in construction has paved the way for stability, longevity, growth, and satisfaction for those who have invested in it. We spoke to one of our apprentices who viewed this path as a viable one for his future, when college didn't pan out for them.

For Douglas Orellana, deciding on a career path at the age of 17 was a difficult decision, as it is for many high schoolers trying to chose what to invest in. With family working in construction, Orellana decided to give it a go as an apprentice at Olympic Companies right out of high school. "When I was a little kid I wanted to be a scientist and then I wanted to be an archeologist. And then by high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So my stepdad said, 'Hey, why don't you join the union?' and I asked him what that was. I joined Olympic, enjoyed working outside, and that's how I got started in the apprenticeship program," he said.

Now, this 20-year-old second-year apprentice says, "It's crazy what you can learn and do in two years. I had no idea how to build a wall before I came here. Now I'm building schools and get to be a part of other big projects." Orellana was chosen by Olympic foremen as the 2020 Apprentice of the Year, an annual award that recognizes the top apprentice in terms of attitude, attendance, skills, ability to learn, work ethic, and construction aptitude.

Construction or working in the trades isn't always perceived as promising the same success of a college degree, but companies like Olympic are changing the conversation by highlighting the longevity and stability of these careers. With the help of training, leadership and continued education opportunities, Olympic shows what it means to invest in people with potential and to strive for building more through their work. "Quality training, no student loans, and employable throughout the country. That's a pretty good deal, and that's something I think that doesn't get sold enough. I'm not against college. I think there's a lot of value there too, but it seems like our field hasn't been an acceptable path for years," said Todd Tilberg, Safety Director and Field Superintendent for Olympic Companies in Sioux Falls. "The other thing is that, like any program, a person joining the trades might not succeed in this program, but with an apprenticeship program, they're out nothing. They've only earned money. They walk away debt-free."

Orellana says he was one of those kids that used to be in the back of the room and not talk to anybody. "I mean I had no specific kind of friends and so when you join construction, well, you're bound to get mixed up with a few different types of folks. And man, I tell you, they straighten you up."  With a smile, he says, "They're like the hard dads I never had and so I'm grateful for that." He's also recognized how much he has grown in communication skills, and how important that is on the job site. "It's a big deal. It affects our teamwork, and when it comes to safety, it can even be life or death."

By building his skillset, Orellana is now able to help his family with construction projects around the house. From fixing someone's basement, putting up shelves in his room, to even tailoring his own pants, he says that he has learned how much he enjoys working with his hands.

"When I had just started here, I thought, 'I just want to get something so that I can live.' But this opportunity has given me a heck of a lot more than that," he said. For him, high school didn't really prepare him for the "grand scheme of things" like rent or paying bills. So when asked what he'd tell high schoolers, Orellana said, "If you're looking for something more, right out of the gate, and you want to get your skills up—I don't mean building stuff, I mean communication, confidence and collaboration—get in here because you're put into projects where you are sort of have to up those skills and work together with people. And well, the benefits are unbelievable!" 

Apprentices like Orellana at Olympic Companies earn an average of $14/hour during training, with fringe benefits such as health insurance, education allowances, or pension. Upon successful completion of the program, apprentices become journeymen in the field. Former students can advance their training and education by enrolling in continuing education courses, and for those who enjoy leadership,  they can begin working in positions such as foreman, superintendent, course instructor—or anything else they choose.  
So, what is Douglas Orellana building at Olympic Companies? "When I build something, I leave a footprint of myself in the city. I feel like I am actually building something bigger than we see now in Sioux Falls. I'm helping Sioux Falls take a step toward that, because I've always wondered what Sioux Falls will look like in the future."
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Business Info

Minnetonka, MN 55305
(952) 546-8166
(952) 544-8869 (fax)


President - Michael Conroy
Chief Operating Officer - Patrick Forliti
Chief Financial Officer - Dustin Prager
- Mary Jo Lecy
Safety Director - Mike Sturgeleski

Our Locations

Minneapolis, MN
Tel: (952) 546-8166
Fargo, ND
Tel: (701) 365-0098
Sioux Falls, SD
Tel: (605) 332-4420
Milwaukee, WI
Tel: (262) 787-7006