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The TOH Apprentices

Meet the talented young people working alongside our pros on the TOH TV project houses this season. New episodes start Oct 6th. Check local listings

Meet the Apprentices

It’s long been the natural order of things in the building trades: seasoned pros working side by side with the next generation in order to grow a fresh crop of skilled workers. As This Old House doubles down on our commitment to encourage more young men and women to pursue a hands-on career, we’ve selected eight apprentices—three chosen from our nationwide casting call, plus five homegrown trainees from the Boston area—to work with the TOH TV crew on the Newton, MA, project house, where construction is under way. Get to know their stories here, and watch our Facebook and Twitter feeds for a sneak peek of them on the job this summer. As TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey points out, they’re part of a terrific tradition. “All the years my father and I worked at Trethewey Brothers, we nurtured apprentices,” he says. “My dad always believed in ‘adopting one kid.’ It was good for the kid and good for us.” We couldn’t agree more.

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Bailey Beers, 19

Photo by Erin Little

Eustis, ME

APPRENTICE TO: SILVA BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION

Math has always just clicked for Bailey Beers. It’s that way for all her family, says Bailey, a college student focusing on building construction. It helps with measurements on the job site, she says, and if she has a piece of paper for crunching numbers, she can keep a pretty small scrap pile.

Bailey grew up watching This Old House with her dad, a hobbyist auto mechanic, eventually working alongside him in the garage. It helped her realize how much she liked working with her hands, and she cemented that interest by taking shop classes in eighth and ninth grades.

This past year she took part in a Habitat for Humanity build as part of her freshman studies at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, ME. She knew she would enjoy the framing work and building walls, but was pleasantly surprised to find she liked roofing and flooring. The experience also yielded an acknowledged respect for heights (“I wouldn’t say I’m afraid…”) and the insight that she’s “very particular but not very patient” when it comes to most things. After finishing work on the house around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, Bailey would do homework before heading to bed around 8 P.M., ensuring that she had at least 7 hours of sleep before waking up at 3:30 A.M. to get to her morning shift at The Home Depot. Only the hardest days require caffeine, she says.

All of which speaks to her ambition: One day she would like to create energy-efficient custom homes in Maine. She is excited to learn more about building from Silva Brothers and the TV crew this summer. “Bailey is very bright and driven,” says This Old House CEO Eric Thorkilsen. “We hope her story will encourage more young women to pursue careers in the trades.”

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Austin Wilson, 18

Photo by Harry Taylor

Castle Hayne, NC

APPRENTICE TO: SILVA BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION

Sitting on top of Austin Wilson’s dresser is an oak box without a top. Also somewhere in his room is a set of drumsticks engraved with his name and retired after two performances with the New Hanover High School marching band. Both mementos are products of Austin’s time at the Kids Making It woodworking shop. He joined KMI at age 12, after making and then racing go-karts at a workshop held by the program.

A recent high school graduate, during his senior year Austin was also enrolled at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC, where he is working toward a degree in construction management. Every day after classes he would go to the shop to work until he could catch a ride home with his mom around 6 P.M. Sometimes Austin works from plans; other projects he tries to figure out on his own, like the cutting boards he made from donated walnut plaques. He sells many of his projects, keeps some, and gives others away. Naturally artistic—a trait he says he shares with his five brothers and sisters—he recently drew a portrait of a friend’s favorite musician and gifted it in a handmade wood frame.

“It’s clear that Austin has been energized and inspired by this kind of work in a genuine way from an early age,” says CEO Thorkilsen. “It’s that spirit that we’re so excited to share.”

Ultimately Austin hopes to build houses, and he’ll gain valuable experience toward that end on the Newton project. “Ever since I was little, when we would drive past homes being built, I’d wonder how all the parts went together,” he says. “I always thought I would do that one day.”

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Nathan Gilbert, 28

Photo by Carl Tremblay

East Bridgewater, MA

APPRENTICE TO: SILVA BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION

During summers and weekends growing up, Nathan Gilbert helped maintain other families’ homes, working alongside his two brothers and his father, a general contractor and finish carpenter who greatly influenced his interest in the trades. “Instead of giving me menial tasks at the job site, my father took the time to teach me the skills I needed to become a successful carpenter,” Nathan says. “He challenged me so I could learn more.”

In addition to being a second-generation finish carpenter, Nathan is a third-generation Seabee, part of the U.S. Navy’s construction battalion. He enlisted a few years after graduating from high school, carrying on the legacy he’d wanted to be part of from a young age. During his five-year military service and three deployments, Nathan held a variety of positions, from laborer to crew leader to job-site supervisor.

Nathan has his own carpentry business now, but still does millwork installations on Martha’s Vineyard with his dad. “I enjoy the diversity of carpentry, from framing to finish work,” he says. Diversifying his skill set in the Navy has helped him problem solve on the job site, enabling him to do many small, unrelated tasks himself. On deployment, he says, it was all about getting things done promptly and efficiently, transitioning from being a carpenter to an equipment operator to an electrician’s assistant, all over the course of a couple of days—a useful background as he joins up for a stint as a This Old House apprentice.

“Nathan is clearly both skilled and disciplined, and we were impressed by the variety of experiences he’s had,” says CEO Thorkilsen. “We’re delighted to have him on our team and grateful for his service.”

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Michael Barrett, 17

Photo by Carl Tremblay

Walpole, MA

APPRENTICE TO: SILVA BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION

One day on the job site, not long ago, Michael Barrett found himself ankle deep in mud, heaving demolished bits of a garage into a dumpster. Not glamorous, but very necessary. “It’s extremely important to start at the bottom and do every step of the job,” says Charlie Silva, Michael’s mentor at Silva Brothers. “Starting out, an apprentice will be hauling lumber, getting the tools out, cleaning up, or doing 20 other different things, paired alongside an experienced crew member. I started that way with Tommy years ago.”

A junior at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, in Franklin, MA, Michael is part of the carpentry program that trains students in the tools and techniques needed for house construction and remodeling. “We learn basic framing, cabinetry, how to use power tools, but we also have to pick up every day and keep our work area clean. That has helped me on the job site,” says Michael, whose interest in the building trades was formed early—he says he has been watching This Old House since he was 5. He also knows about the work from a cousin who is a high-end carpenter. Michael hopes to build up his skills in finish carpentry, framing, flooring, and roofing on the job site. “I like that you are doing something different every day, and often working outside,” he says. Framing interests him because progress is rapid and visible. “But demolition is fun, too, because you can go pretty fast and work out lots of energy.”

The key is working hard, says Charlie: “I love what I do and feel extremely fortunate that I can make a good living in the trades. If these kids hustle and like what they’re doing, they’ve got a good future.”

Corey Forester, 20

Photo by Carl Tremblay

Burlington, MA

APPRENTICE TO: K & R TREE AND LANDSCAPE

As Corey Forester sees it, his apprenticeship under This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook is a rare opportunity. “I’m learning from the best, and being paid to learn—it doesn’t get any better than that,” says Corey, who also serves in the Marine Corps Reserve. His initial plan out of high school was to combine Marine Corps service with a four-year college degree; he completed his basic training the summer after graduation. But during his first year of college, he realized the classroom wasn’t for him. “I like to do something that keeps me moving,” Corey says. He connected with Roger through a family friend, and he has already put in a year at K & R Tree and Landscape as Roger’s apprentice. “I started as a laborer, mixing cement, pushing a wheelbarrow, doing whatever I could,” he says. Little by little, he is advancing to tasks with more responsibility.

“It’s very rewarding to see how Corey has progressed,” says Roger. “I can teach someone to be a landscaper, but I can’t teach someone to be nice and hardworking. I could see Corey had potential, and it wasn’t a hard choice to hire him. I just worried at first because he kept calling me ‘Sir,’ as a result of his military background,” he jokes. At the Newton house, Roger expects Corey to help dig out the roses and lilacs and nurture them in an interim location during construction, put up fencing to protect the property’s paper birch and Japanese red maples, and build a retaining wall along the back of the property.

“I’m learning really good skills here,” Corey says. “Who knows where it will go, maybe I will be a landscape foreman one day. But for now, this is exactly what I want to be doing.”

Krysten Poulin, 22

Photo by Carl Tremblay

Tyngsborough, MA

APPRENTICE TO: MJM MASONRY

As an apprentice at MJM Masonry since July 2016, Krysten Poulin has been pursuing a trade that first caught her interest as a student at Greater Lowell Technical High School, in Tyngsborough, MA. “The masonry program taught us a bit of everything, from laying brick to reading blueprints,” says Krysten. “I found that I really liked the challenge of laying brick correctly. It’s an art. It takes time, but it is very gratifying to see what you have built.”

Through a friend, Krysten connected with MJM Masonry, Mark McCullough’s company. Mark is an advocate for apprenticeships and estimates he has as many as 20 apprentices (out of a staff of 90) working for him at any one time. He sees the technical high schools as a good source for apprentices. “The technical school students already have basic skills by the time they come to us. Krysten already knew how to use a trowel, and the basics of laying bricks,” he says.

Krysten has family members in the building trades, including an uncle who was a master carpenter, and she appreciates the skill building that is required. “I started as a laborer, getting materials and stock for the walls that were being built,” says Krysten, who has progressed to working alongside masons as they lay brick. At the Newton project house this summer, Mark expects to have her help out with chimney demolition and foundation work, among other projects.

“One of the first things we have apprentices do is work behind the mason organizing the bricks before handing them to the mason, making sure the bricks are in the right position and in the right color range,” Mark says. “Krysten fits right in.”

Zack Grayton, 17

Photo by Carl Tremblay

Peabody, MA

APPRENTICE TO: BILO PLUMBING & HEATING

With his dad an electrician and two of his uncles engineers, Zack Grayton took an interest in the trades early on, and headed right to Essex Technical High School, in Hathorne, MA, as a freshman. Now a junior, he alternates between one week of school and one week as an apprentice at Bilo Plumbing & Heating, the subcontractor on the TOH TV project house in Newton. The apprenticeship is part of the Essex Tech program, which includes classroom, laboratory, and off-campus work, and sets students on their way toward earning a journeyman plumbing license.

“I’ve been doing rough plumbing for new construction and also finish work on some bath remodels,” says Zack, who particularly likes the finish work. “It’s great to learn on the job, and I really like working with my hands much more than sitting at a desk somewhere.”

Bilo Plumbing & Heating has found that technical high schools are a good source for potential apprentices. “There’s so much work out there and there’s not enough help, so we like having an apprentice for every journeyman,” says Brian Bilo, who heads up the company. “The juniors in the tech high schools already know theory, fitting, and tools, so they have some experience even before they start with us.”

At the Newton house, Bilo expects that Zack—and the second Bilo apprentice, Alex Quealy, at right—will help with all the plumbing rough-ins and finish work, as well as the heating system. Says Brian, whose family business was founded in 1973, “It’s been difficult to get people to come into the trade lately, but if they get the skills and do quality work, they will have jobs.”

Alex Quealy, 17

Photo by Carl Tremblay

Middleton, MA

APPRENTICE TO: BILO PLUMBING & HEATING

When it came time for Alex Quealy to choose a high school, there was no question it would be a technical school. “It’s way better than reading all day, and I can work with my hands,” says Alex, now a junior at Essex Technical High School, in Hathorne, MA.

Alex says the plumbing program has taught him the basics, including working with safety equipment and power tools, and doing tasks such as threading pipes—all things he is putting into practice as an apprentice with Bilo Plumbing & Heating. Essex Tech students can either find apprenticeships on their own through friends and family or they can be placed with a company seeking apprentices through the school. “My first day on the job, I had to grab lines, cut into walls and ceilings, and run pipes to a manifold. I’m learning so much because they use all the most advanced tools and techniques, such as using a ProPress gun to connect pipes instead of soldering,” says Alex. One of his favorite things so far has been installing radiant floor heating. “I don’t care how long things take—you can see the end result, and it looks awesome!”

From company president Brian Bilo’s point of view, apprentices like Alex are a reminder of how important it is to the future of the plumbing trade to always bring in new talent. “Our goal is to get apprentices who will become journeymen,” says Brian. “It will take a few years, but if kids are patient and do good work, it pays off.”

For Alex, the fun is in mastering so many new things. “There’s lots to learn. I can truly say I’ve never walked in and thought, Oh, I’ve done this before. Every day it’s something different. I think this is the trade I would like to stay with.”