Jace Kapla started school with the end goal in mind: “I’d like to find a good job, maybe become a foreman, have a nice life, a nice house.”

The goals – graduation and career – are not unique to this South Dakota student, but they are not as distant as they used to be.

He has one more year of schooling before he graduates from Mitchell Technical College in Mitchell, S.D., where he is pursuing a degree through the school’s Architecture Design and Building Construction program. What’s more, he already has a job lined up for this summer, and plans to keep learning even when he’s off campus.

That’s one of the things he enjoys about his chosen field: the opportunity to learn new things all of the time.

Kapla, originally from Yankton, S.D., started at Mitchell Tech in 2020 and is on track to finish by 2022.

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His experience at the school has been only positive; heading to campus feels more like going to a job he loves. While that may say something about the school, it also says a lot about Kapla having chosen the right field for him. When a person pursues something he or she loves, it doesn't feel much like work.

“I get to go be with my buddies and do what I love to do. And, I get to learn something new,” he said. Every day is different.

“They know so much. Those guys have probably forgotten more than I will ever know about construction,” he said of his instructors. “Every day we're doing something, and they'll come over and be like, ‘Hey, why don't you do it this way?’ They'll show me a little trick and I'll be like, ‘Wow, that's a good tool to have in my tool belt.’ I’ve learned so much from them and it's just fun.”

Kapla knows once he’s a fulltime employee, going to work will be a little different; but he is excited about the continued learning opportunities the work provides.

“Whatever job site you go on, everybody has a different way of doing things,” Kapla said. “You can do things a million different ways. … I mean there are different ways of doing things, and that's what I like.”

One teacher he credits for helping get him on his current path was his high school shop teacher. He said he’s worked for contractors in some form and fashion since he was in middle school, but in high school he wasn’t doing as well as he should have been doing. It was his shop teacher who helped him get on track and make important decisions about his future.

“I’ve always liked working with my hands,” Kapla said.

Jace Kapla, a student at Mitchell Tech in Mitchell, S.D., is seen here working on a project in the school’s Architecture Design and Building Construction program. Kapla will graduate from the program in 2022.
Jace Kapla, a student at Mitchell Tech in Mitchell, S.D., is seen here working on a project in the school’s Architecture Design and Building Construction program. Kapla will graduate from the program in 2022. Image: Courtesy of Mitchell Tech

He worked in a manufacturing plant for a period of time, but more thoroughly enjoyed working on building projects with his dad. During his senior year he had a decision to make.

“I determined that (manufacturing) really wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and, since I like working with my hands and seeing progress at the end of the day, this is kind of a good path for me,” he said.

“I was failing geometry and a few other classes and my shop teacher sat me down one day and, with a tape measure, we did some math, geometry and so he associated that with building. You know what I mean, something I could understand.”

He knew what he wanted to do.

“Now I'm doing really well,” he said.

When Kapla is not in school or working on projects, he often heads outdoors to fish or hunt or finds other ways to enjoy nature in the region.

When he hits the workforce, Kapla will be versed not only in construction but in some architecture details as well. Mitchell Tech’s program combines the two – architecture and construction – in an effort to help students become more well-rounded and ready for the job market. Kapla said he enjoyed some of the design skills he’s learned, including working with a program called AutoCAD, an architect and drafting tool; but Kapla’s main interest remains in the construction sector.

But who knows – maybe down the road he’ll get more involved with the architecture side of things, he said. It’s that versatility and opportunity for new things that he enjoys about his field of study.

“Every day you face a challenge,” he said. “Sometimes it's reading a plan and coming to understand that.” Or there may be other challenges, what he calls learning opportunities. “But it's all about how you approach it. I believe in working smarter, not harder. Well, to an extent anwyay, I mean I do some pretty dumb things sometimes, but we're trying to be efficient and out there, we're trying to do a project as fast as possible, doing quality work and being efficient, while making sure everybody is safe.”

His advice for other young people seeking a similar career path: don’t decide right away to start your own company.

He said he hears all of the time:

“They say I'm going to be a carpenter, I'm going to own my own company someday,” he said. “You guys don't know what goes into that. And I know, I've seen it firsthand. Many guys get out of school … and say I'm going to be my own boss and it doesn't work out.” Instead, he advises, find a job and stay there for a while. “Learn what you're supposed to be doing, and then determine if you really want to have your own business.”

It is advice he is taking to heart. For Kapla, he just wants to settle with a good company and move up the career ladder from there.

“I guess I just want to master what I do and get good at that, and then take on the next challenge,” he said. “That might be becoming a foreman or that might be becoming a lead man. I want to get to be proficient at what I do, and then move on.”

Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or aweeks AT prairiebusinessmagazine.com