After two years of bussing tables around Washington, D.C., Salvador Solano-Tejeda was over it. His employer was short-staffed, so management was assigning brutally long hours. Salvador’s predicament left him feeling miserable and worthless but fueled his desire to pursue a better future. “I had to pause and reflect on my worth,’’ says Salvador. He debated whether to switch jobs or go to college when his mother came across a flier for BuildWithin.
“It seemed too good to be true,” Salvador remembers thinking. He hadn’t heard about apprenticeships where a company would pay him to earn and learn full time. He applied for BuildWithin and was accepted in 2022.
Salvador was born and raised in D.C. His father, a cook, and his mother, a homemaker, had migrated from Mexico. In school, Salvador was talented at math and liked the idea of building things ground up. He thought about becoming an architect. “It’s silly to say, but building Legos since I was a kid inspired my fascination for problem solving,” he says.
During his senior year of high school, Salvador was accepted at a local college but decided not to matriculate. “I felt like I wasn't sure about my future,” explains Salvador, “so, I thought about taking a step back and rethinking what I wanted to do with my life. And I decided to work instead.” That decision led Salvador to two years of restaurant work and, finally, BuildWithin. He still had that desire to build.
BuildWithin connected Salvador with Metropolitan Engineering Inc. (MEI), an architectural engineering and consulting services firm focused on mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire safety. He interviewed well and began apprenticing with MEI in January 2023.
Initially, his job was to prepare closing documents, including product manuals and warranties, for equipment installed at client sites. He soon learned the importance of speaking up and asking questions. Immersed in new skills, lingo, and processes, the only way to keep up was to ask questions. “Not only was I learning, but I felt more confident in what I was doing, which pushed me to succeed,” says Salvador.
Within a few months, he was assisting with project management from end to end, from proposals to estimates to closings. He became proficient in Procore, a widely used software platform for construction management. Five months into the apprenticeship, Salvador says, “I feel like I'm moving up a lot faster than I expected to be.”
In addition to working hands-on, Salvador continues to do online coursework focused on technology and general business skills. MEI also assigns courses that are relevant to Salvador’s current and future work.
Salvador’s career has come full circle. He is pursuing his high school interest and helping with major building projects, including one in Georgetown for an iconic tech company. Salvador hopes to work full-time in project management with MEI following his apprenticeship. His parents are incredibly proud of him.
“I finally feel like I’m on my path to success,” Salvador says. ‘“Looking back, I’m thankful for my experience in the restaurant business. If I hadn’t been treated the way I was, I’d still be bussing tables. It pushed me to rethink my future and my desires. I’ve learned to see the positive in a negative situation.’’
For others who have felt underappreciated or mistreated at work, Salvador offers advice: “Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try new experiences. You never know what's out there that you might like. When I was working at the restaurant, I didn't realize I’d enjoy project management, but that’s what I like now.”
*To learn about more apprenticeships with BuildWithin, visit HERE