Being part of the Crane Apprentice program at the Local 49 Training Center has been one of the greatest experiences in Dane Tolzmann’s career as an Operating Engineer.

After graduating high school, Tolzmann attended college for a little over a year, but discovered that college was not for him. “I never thought about the trades as a career—it’s not something that’s promoted in high school, but I knew after a while that college wasn’t the right thing for me.”

Tolzmann said he’s always been mechanically inclined, so after leaving college he became a mechanic at an Audi-Volkswagen dealership. After working as a mechanic for a while, Tolzmann partnered with his brother to start his own landscaping company where he began operating small equipment. “My brother and I had experience doing that in the past, so naturally we began running small machinery,” Tolzmann said. “We had that company for a few years, but then shut down and I began working at a large landscaping company.”

During his time at the larger landscaping company, Tolzmann began operating excavators and running grades. While he enjoyed the work, Tolzmann said he wasn’t making a good living and did not have a comprehensive benefits package – which made him turn to Local 49.

“I started knocking on a lot doors and talking to the union representatives at the hall until finally last year I had an opportunity to work for Ames Construction on the Stillwater Bridge project,” Tolzmann said. While working for Ames Construction at the Stillwater Bridge project Tolzmann was exposed to crane work for the first time. “It was awesome to see what they were able to do,” Tolzmann stated. “They were picking up segments that were 63,000 pounds, 63 feet in the air; it was one of the biggest projects I have worked on in my life and it just happened to be the first job I was ever on.”

Since then, Tolzmann knew he wanted to pursue his career as a crane operator so he began investigating the Local 49 Training Center’s Crane Apprenticeship Program.

“The Training Center is a great resource to gain experience and learn something new,” Tolzmann said.

Tolzmann has completed the four-week long Phase I Crane Apprenticeship Program in May 2017, and will begin Phase II in February 2018. He described Phase I as covering all the basic knowledge of cranes as well as safety training. “By the end of the four weeks you have a pretty good handle of running a crane, working as an oiler, and safe rigging,” Tolzmann said. “It’s a thorough course from start to finish to get you employable.” Tolzmann said Phase II is focused on training to pass the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCO or CCO) exam.

“Phase II is more advanced as far as operating a tower crane or friction rigs as well as dialing into passing the CCO test and obtain that license,” he said.

Once Tolzmann has passed the CCO exam, he says he’s excited to start his career as a crane operator. He also encourages other high school students and young adults to consider the trades as a viable career option other than college. “To be able to learn on the job and get legitimate training to become a professional while incurring next to no cost to you, is huge” he said. “You can finish a program and not have a single student loan to your name.

And during that entire time, you’re provided with a good wage to support a family as well as good health care,” he added.

Tolzmann’s advice to young members of Local 49 is to take advantage of the resources that are available to you, and that “you get as much as you put into it.”

Tolzmann also had a special thank you to Ryan O’Gary and John Barnes who are the crane instructors at the Training Center and to John Sinna with whom he worked.

For more stories like Dane’s visit the Apprenticeship Story section at